July 28, 2016

The Paintball Shootings of 2001

Photograph by Jerzy Strzelecki
On January 14, 2001 along an Anchorage street two non-Native male seventeen year-olds from Eagle River, a suburb, posed as tourists from California as another teenager, a nineteen year-old legal adult, named Charles Deane Wiseman —brother to one of the younger males—videotaped them confronting a Native man. They asked him if he was drunk then shot him in the face with a paintball gun. This attack was one in a series of assaults the three would commit that winter night targeting Alaska Natives they marked as intoxicated and homeless. That is to say they willfully searched out  Indigenous individuals who posed no threat to them so they could videotape themselves shooting their victims with marble-sized paint pellets from an instrument like the one below.

The police reported that at least a dozen Native individuals were shot.(1) On the videotape, what the press describe as a "voice," says "We're going to go nail some eskimos." Other accounts site that they said they were intent on "hunting" "muktuks."The videos show victims flinching as they are shot in the face, followed by the sounds of laughter from the the young men. One of the victims told the police of the crime soon after it took place and was charged for disorderly conduct, due to allegedly being under the influence of alcohol. The victim served 10 days in the anchorage jail.

Wiseman, and the two teenagers, were charged with seven counts of misdemeanor assault on march 20th to which they pleaded not guilty. In court the two brothers claimed the third assailant was the shooter and that the younger bother drove his new Subaru Impreza, while the older brother filmed the assaults. Wiseman asserted he video taped while his brother drove the car that tracked people on the street, placing the responsibility of the crimes on their partner whom they were not related to.(2) A week before the youth's first day in court Governor Tony Knowles began setting up a review of the crime and what ways the government could respond.

Upon hearing of the attack and the charges against the assailants the Alaska Federation of Natives called for a Civil Rights Commission review of hate crimes against Alaska Natives. Leadership of the organization expressed that this attack was "representative of an undercurrent of racism" in the state.(3) On March 23rd the state house joined AFN is asking the US Commission for an investigation while passing a resolution condemning the assault as a hate crime. (That spring the state government put together a plan to introduce Hate Crimes bill that has yet to materialize) Alaska Senators held contrasting views of such an investigation. Senator Frank Murkowski at the time believe there was little need for a review, while the late Senator Ted Stevens, quoted here from the Peninsula Clarion, said

 "'No, I think they're (the Alaska Federation of Natives) entirely within their rights to ask
for a Civil Rights Commission review of that and other incidents,'' Stevens told the
Alaska Public Radio Network.''There seems to be nationwide an increase in the so-
called 'hate crimes'. And I think that there are existing laws and we should use them.
'I don't think we need new laws right now as much as we need enforcement of existing
laws. And the Civil Rights Commission ... has the right to investigate,'' Stevens said.
''As far as I'm concerned, I think it should be done.''(4)

Wiseman pleaded no contest to three counts of misdemeanor assault that June. During this legal process the man remained out on bail and his attorney asked the court to reinstate his driving privileges that were revoked in January. The judge declined this.

Upon being sentenced to six months in jail, 6,000 dollar fine, and 300 hours of community service on August 31st Wiseman expressed an apology to his victims. The two others as minors have their identities sealed from this type of research. Wiseman's attorney argued that he was not culpable to the crime since he was not the one who pulled the trigger on the paintball gun. Judge Ashman asserted to the court that this crime held racist overtones from its conception.(5) After spending 40 days in solitary confinement, seeking protection from other facility's other inmates Wiseman asked for house arrest, to which the Judge declined the request. Often in situations where racially and economically privileged people face jail terms, scholars have noted that, their lawyers and family members plead for them to be separated from the prison population for their own safety or not to serve prison sentences because being around such prisoners will turn them into criminals, as with rapist Brock Turner. The conclusions are easy to understand that the attackers saw these people as socially dead and that they could hurt them without justice being brought to them. One of the victims filed a civil suite against the defendants, settling out of court for 10,000. It appears that 5 other victims filed also filed a civil case as well, but I have yet been able to locate any settlement.

On August 23–24, 2001, and October 25, 2001 the Alaska Advisory Committee on Civil Rights held community forums with a wide range of panelists representing a wide variety of Alaska community members. Their April 2002 findings and statements can be found in the document Racism’s Frontier: The Untold Story of Discrimination and Division in Alaska. (Their recommendations and advice are far too massive in scope to discuss here.) The governor appointed a 14-member "Commission on Tolerance" who on December 6th asserted that the state educational curriculum should include and emphasis Native cultures and people. 

1. "Alaskan charged with assault in egging on of 2 paintballers." Deseret News, The (Salt Lake City, UT) - March 21, 2001.
2"Briefly" Juneau Empire (AK) - March 21, 2001.
3. "Community horrified by attacks on Natives." FEBRUARY 27, 2001 Indianz.com
4. Friday, March 23, 2001
5. Juneau Empire (AK) - September 4, 2001

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