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Gasping for Air: Letter from Samantha Hogan to Paul Castaway

 July 12, 2015

Dear Paul Castaway,


In that moment, your mother said she knew you were dead. She called the Denver police to calm you down. She usually did that. This time, though—because of either your alcoholism or schizophrenia—you had held a knife to her throat. The officer shot you when you held the knife to your own.


Did you notice the children playing in the Capital City Mobile Home Park as you ran past? They told reporters that you yelled at them before you realized you were trapped behind wood and metal fences. A 15-year-old boy fainted as he watched you approach the police, and the officer fired. He heard your last words, “What’s wrong with you guys?”


Much is wrong. Why is it that the first excuse presented for a white shooter is “mental illness,” while a Lakota Sioux Native American, who is known to be mentally ill by police, is shot multiple times? The police chief reported that you had come “dangerously” close to the officers with the knife when one had fired. If my white brother, who is bipolar, had approached officers the same way, with the knife pressed to his throat, would they have aimed and fired? He so easily could have been you: He is 32 and you are 35 years old, his daughters are 1 and 2 and your son is 3, he gets angry and you get angry. It’s a family affair—until someone calls the police.


Native Americans between the ages of 20 and 44 are among the most vulnerable populations likely to be killed by law enforcement, according to data from The Center for Disease Control between 1999 and 2011. Native Americans share this target only with African Americans between the ages of 20 to 34. Together, they made up almost 30 percent of all deaths by law enforcement during arrests, attempted arrests, suppression of disturbances, maintaining order and other legal actions. Almost always it is through the use of a firearm and a male.

Cause of death: multiple gunshot wounds to the torso, the coroner said.

They burned sage for your soul.


Samantha Hogan