(CN) – The 2nd Circuit dismissed a class action accusing New York officials of intentionally withholding police protection during a period of violent unrest on the Mohawk Indian reservation in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Plaintiffs said the inadequate response was racially motivated, and contributed to millions of dollars in property damage and the death of two young Mohawks.
According to the plaintiffs, a heavily armed Mohawk organization called the Warrior Society was responsible for the criminal violence that overtook the New York reservation.
Government officials charged with policing Indian lands responded to the crisis by setting up roadblocks at the edge of the reservation to warn outsiders and possibly keep them from entering the turmoil.
Mohawks said the police protection was not only inadequate, but was also discriminatory and amounted to “express racial classification.”
They further challenged officials’ policy of notifying the Warrior Society before police entered the reservation, and of stopping regular patrols inside the reservation.
The New York-based federal appeals court did not share the plaintiffs’ view that discrimination was what blocked the officials from preventing the violence.
The roadblocks, the court noted, were “aimed at an area, not a racial class.” Similarly, the policy of informing the Warrior Society before entering the reservation was not necessarily biased, the judges ruled.
“Viewed most favorably, the policy was simply a way for police to avoid a potentially violent standoff with the Warriors, and perhaps even to show respect for the sovereignty of the Mohawks,” the three-judge panel ruled in a per-curiam decision.
Nor was the suspension of reservation patrols an “express racial classification,” the court added.
“The violence on the Mohawk reservation was an indisputable tragedy,” the panel wrote. “But plaintiffs have not shown that defendants’ attempts to avert it, however unsuccessful they might have been, were a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.”
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