People call 911 because they expect help, because they want prevent someone from getting hurt. People do not call 911 because they want to be hurt or because they want to hurt somebody else.
Unfortunately, many times when brown-skinned people call 911 for help, they get killed instead.
A 14-year-old child named Jason Pero called 911 and an Ashland County Sheriff deputy by the name of Deputy Brock Mrdjenovich responded to his 911 call. Jason was home from school and he had a knife in his hand. Interestingly, Wisconsin has some of the more liberal knife laws in the land, but more on that later. Deputy Brock Mrdjenovich—the man who killed the young child—said that the child “lunged” at him. Implicit in the officer’s statement is the notion that he had no other option but to fatally shoot a young boy with a knife—he could not detain him, taze him, shoot him in the hand that held the knife, etc.
Even assuming that Jason indeed lunged at him, that should not necessitate lethal force. As American Civil Liberties Union attorney Claudia Center said, “You should not be assuming that just because a knife is in the picture that lethal force is automatically required or appropriate.”
But Mrdjenovich assumed that lethal force was required against this child.
I do not mean to make this tragedy about anything other than the child. Still, it is important to acknowledge Brock and the Ashland County Sheriff’s Department’s place on the wrong side of history. In the middle of the day on a Wednesday, Deputy Brock Mrdjenovich decided to end a Native American child’s life with a firearm. This, of course, is a common storyline as state-sponsored violence kills Native Americans at incredibly disproportionate rates. It also follows a common narrative as law enforcement—when they kill people—quickly move to shift blame from themselves to the victims of the killing. Tragically, 8th Grader Jason Pero, a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, is the latest victim of these horrible trends.
The child was on his own homelands when Mrdjenovich shot Pero down. He was home sick from school. He was emotional and vulnerable—as children can be from time to time. Teenage hormones and puberty are both helluva drugs. Young Jason called 911 about 11:40 a.m. where the Ashland County Sheriff is charged with protecting and serving the Bad River community alongside tribal law enforcement. There is no independent corroboration of a “lunge” or an altercation or anything other than that there was a child’s body lying there.
And the child was treated at the scene but died at a hospital.
Of course the authorities were quick to distance their own liability and released information implicating the child. The Wisconsin Justice Department released the information that a knife was recovered at the scene of the shooting. Subsequently, law enforcement began to question Pero’s family about whether he had a knife or not.
Interestingly, whether or not this boy had a knife has almost zero legal consequence. Pretty much every type of knife is legal in Wisconsin, including pocket knives, KA-BAR knives, Bowie knives, hunting and fishing knives, machetes, swords, throwing stars, throwing knives, daggers, stilettos, etc. Even sword-canes and disguised knives such as belt-buckle blades are fair game in Wisconsin.
In short, there is no reason that this young Native child is dead as there are many non-lethal means to disarm armed people. There are even more non-lethal means when that “armed person” is a 14-year-old child carrying a knife who called 911 himself. I do not know the officer so I cannot suggest racism, although institutional racism against Native people is a rampant issue in Wisconsin. That racism is reflected by the epidemic of Native children who are suspended and expelled from schools, disproportionate rates of incarceration and different sentencing for the same crimes, and obviously also by law enforcement killing Natives at higher rates than anyone else in the nation. I will say that the fact that Native people are killed so frequently by law enforcement at least shows a wanton recklessness and lack of respect for Native lives.
May the Creator comfort the family of Jason Pero. May that comfort by finding justice and prosecuting, to the greatest degree allowed by the law, the violent killer who took this child away from his family.
Please donate to the family at https://www.gofundme.com/ebe78-justice-for-baby-jay
Gyasi Ross is a father, an author and a storyteller. He is a member of the Blackfeet (Amskapikipikuni) Nation and his family also comes from the Suquamish Nation. He is the co-host of the Breakdances With Wolves: Indigenous Pirate Radio podcast. He can be reached at Instagram and Twitter at: @BigIndianGyasi