On Easter Sunday, March 27, a 27-year-old Navajo mother was killed by a police officer in Winslow, Arizona. The woman, Loreal Juana Barnell Tsingine was suspected of shoplifting a case of beer and shot five times by Winslow police officer Austin Shipley, 26, in a Circle K. parking lot. Shipley told the Winslow Police Department that there had been a struggle to arrest the suspected shoplifter and that she had displayed a weapon — a pair of scissors — which, to him, posed a “substantial threat.” Some witnesses disagree entirely, saying that Tsingine never raised her hands to the officers. Many of them are questioning why a big man like Shipley would choose to shoot such a petite woman.
“Was he so scared of her? A little tiny thing with a scissor?” the victim’s aunt Floranda Dempsey told 12 News after the shooting. “We understand there are consequences for breaking the law, but it shouldn’t have to be that extreme.”
The Winslow Police Department has placed Shipley on administrative leave while the Arizona Department of Public Safety investigates the shooting. The Republic filed a public-records request about Shipley’s history with the department and released their findings today. Records reveal that Shipley, an officer since 2013, had two disciplinary actions in his file. First, he had been suspended for a day without pay in November 2013 for making inappropriate comments to a women which violated the department’s code of conduct.
— Melanie K. Yazzie (@melanie_yazzie) April 5, 2016
More notably, on February 19 of this year, Shipley was suspended for one day and placed on six months of probation for excessive use of a taser. He had been required to enroll in mandatory departmental training on the use of force and taser deployment.
— The Red Nation (@The_Red_Nation) April 2, 2016
The shooting has sparked an outcry from the Native American community, bringing its leaders together to call for an independent investigation into Tsingine’s killing. Native American leaders are well aware of the fact that Native Americans, more than any other group, are more likely to be killed by a police officer. They have demanded that the U.S. Department of Justice review police violence targeting Native Americans in the towns that border the Navajo Nation and called for an end of racial profiling against Navajo people.
Native Americans make up 0.8% of the population in the U.S., yet they comprise 1.9% of police killings, according to the San Francisco-based Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, which analyzed data collected from 1999 to 2011 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After Native Americans, it’s Africans Americans who are more likely to be killed by police. African Americans, 13% of the population, are victims in 26% of police shootings, the study found. They were followed by Latinos, whites, and Asian Americans.
On social media, people around the world have used the hashtags #Justice4Loreal and #JusticeForLoreal to stand in solidarity with her and offer condolences.
— McDUH (@mcduh) April 2, 2016
On April 2, over 350 people–including members of The Red Nation and Black Lives Matter as well as Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye–held a candlelight vigil in front of the Winslow Police Department to demand justice. Begaye threatened to sue the city of Winslow if they did not address the wrongful death of Tsingine. “If there is no legitimate justification for taking Tsingine’s life, then the Navajo Nation wants the fullest extent of the law to be taken in serving justice,” Begaye said in a statement.
Speakers also drew attention to the systemic violence Natives experience on daily basis in Arizona border towns like Holbrook, Winslow, Flagstaff, and Page. “The police constantly surveil, harass, and intimidate us. This violence is in no way isolated. For Natives, border towns are a dangerous place because of the police,” said Andrew Curley, one of the vigil’s organizers.
Liberation News reported that at the end of the vigil, Loreal’s brother, Tyrone Yazzie stated, “We are a military family, I used to wear a uniform and I would never disrespect that uniform. The officer that shot my sister has no respect for anything, nor his uniform.”