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2006 News Releases

RI ACLU Criticizes Smoke Shop Raid Ruling

Posted: May 25, 2006|Category: Discrimination Category: Racial/Ethnic Discrimination Category: Police Practices

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The ACLU of Rhode Island today criticized yesterday’s 4-to-2 court of appeals ruling upholding the state’s 2003 raid of the Narragansett Indian smoke shop as “a very troubling undermining of basic principles of Indian sovereignty.” Last September, the RI ACLU, together with the National ACLU and the National Congress of American Indians, had filed a “friend of the court” brief in the case, arguing that “by executing a search warrant against the Tribe, arresting Tribal officials, and confiscating tribal documents and other property,” the state violated the Tribe’s “sovereign authority over its territory.”

RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown said today: “A federal policy of leaving tribes free from state jurisdiction and control is deeply rooted in the Nation’s history, but this court decision has severely undermined that policy. Although Governor Carcieri has supported the ruling by claiming that nobody should be able to evade the law, the fact is that there is no bigger fan of sovereign immunity than the State itself – at least when it is alleged to have violated the rights of citizens. In this case, the state invaded the Tribe’s fundamental sovereignty in ways that it would never accept for itself.

“There is a sad history in this country of broken promises to Indian tribes, and this decision essentially approves yet another one. In order to reach the decision it did yesterday, the court majority was forced to disavow two of its own precedents that span more than a decade. The state’s heavy-handed confrontational tactics in the initial smoke shop raid were troubling enough. This court decision, which has potentially vast ramifications for the rights of Indian tribes generally, only adds insult to injury by authorizing the state to treat Rhode Island’s original settlers as strangers in their own land.”

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