White Supremacism and the Struggle for American Justice


Let us not launch the boat ...
Valued Senior Member
Justice Whispers in the Wind: Her Name Was Mika Westwolf

Six months ago, Mika Westwolf died alongside US-93, on the Flathead Reservation:

Authorities said that 28-year-old Sunny White was behind the wheel of the Escalade with her two young children in the back seat and fled the scene. White is allegedly a white nationalist; she named her children "Aryan" and "Nation." Some speculated that Westwolf's death was a hate crime.

White was initially charged in April with two counts of criminal child endangerment. But Lake County District Attorney James Lapotka dropped the charges, saying more time was needed for the Montana Highway Patrol to investigate.

In May and June, Popular Information revealed that the investigation into Westwolf's death was under-resourced, haphazard, and focused on pinning blame on the victim. Trooper Wayne Bieber of the Montana Highway Patrol was the lead investigator. In a visit to Westwolf's family three weeks after her death, Bieber appeared unfamiliar with basic facts, confused about Montana law, and dismissive of White's potential connections to white nationalists.

"Once they found out that she was a young Indian woman, and it was late at night, early in the morning, they started investigating whether or not she was drinking or doing drugs," Erica Shelby, a legal advocate for the Westwolf family, told Popular Information. "Then they started investigating if she was suicidal."


And this is how it goes. Except this circumastance is untenable. Legum's reporting on Westwolf's death sparked coverage from a number of more prominent news-media organizations, and, "Shortly thereafter … the FBI had begun assisting with the investigation."

And it is important to recognize that all the talk of how journalism is supposed to affect institutions comes to bear; Carissa Heavy Runner, after campaigning toward justice for her daughter, Mika, was "glad to hear" of White's arrest and charges, "but I'm still kind of in shock because it really seemed like this day was unreachable."

And for so many, it truly is.

But not today:

Over the weekend, White was arrested and charged with five felonies, including vehicular homicide while under the influence, criminal child endangerment, and criminal possession of dangerous drugs. According to documents filed on October 19 by Lapotka, White initially told an officer that she "had hit a deer and not stopped." A search of White's car yielded "a small makeup tube with methamphetamine inside, five syringes, and two unopened packages of Narcan." A blood sample taken from White allegedly "came back positive for fentanyl and methamphetamine."

It's one thing that Sunny White is the sort of alleged white supremacist who names her kids Aryan and Nation, but there is also a question of the rest of American society that in this case has to do with prejudice against tribal women, itself a slowburning American crisis harrowing heritage and future. And while that crisis is, itself, intertwined through generations, a tangled nest of knotted history, the arrest of Sunny White is significant because our American history made it seem so unreachable.

And if we should wonder why what reads like the mundane course of a tragedy, that someone is charged with homicide in Mika Westwolf's death, might make such a powerful symbol, it is because the slowburning, harrowing unreachability of justice is how it goes for indigenous communities.

And as US-93 connects Missoula and Flathead County, part of a route that Sunny White would have been traveling, anyway, along the route to and from Butte-Silver Bow, the thing about Sunny White being a white supremacist is that it might be entirely coincidental. The separate burglary and parental interference case↱ can easily appear to be related, compared to the incident dates.

To the other, consider what it would mean if white supremacism was coincidental to the homicide, but an instrumental question driving the journalism and compelling law enforcement to look more closely.

Among the living, yes, journalism appears to have done its legendary job, increasing pressure on public institutions to pursue the facts and case. But if reporters and readers alike should raise a glass to the power of the free press, it is a solemn tribute. Her name was Mika Westwolf and she cannot join in the salute. And without her, this cannot be a celebration, but a quiet, even sacred acknowledgment of duty attended in a world that should so demand.


Buchli, Zoë and Nora Mabie. "Arlee fatal suspect arraigned in Butte on burglary, parental interference charges". Missoulian. 18 May 2023. Missoulian.com. 24 October 2023. https://bit.ly/3S9v4Pt

Legum, Judd. "UPDATE: Woman charged with homicide of Mika Westwolf". Popular Information. 24 October 2023. Popular.Info. 24 October 2023. https://bit.ly/3QuP2Da
Just Another Day

The news from Associated Press↱ is grim, and, sure, at the very least nigh on outrageous, but no—

The practice of giving sedatives to people detained by police has spread quietly across the nation over the last 15 years, built on questionable science and backed by police-aligned experts, an investigation led by The Associated Press has found. Based on thousands of pages of law enforcement and medical records and videos of dozens of incidents, the investigation shows how a strategy intended to reduce violence and save lives has resulted in some avoidable deaths.

At least 94 people died after they were given sedatives and restrained by police from 2012 through 2021, according to findings by the AP in collaboration with FRONTLINE (PBS) and the Howard Centers for Investigative Journalism. That’s nearly 10% of the more than 1,000 deaths identified during the investigation of people subdued by police in ways that are not supposed to be fatal. About half of the 94 who died were Black, including Jackson.

Behind the racial disparity is a disputed medical condition called excited delirium, which fueled the rise of sedation outside hospitals. Critics say its purported symptoms, including “superhuman strength” and high pain tolerance, play into racist stereotypes about Black people and lead to biased decisions about who needs sedation.

The use of sedatives in half these incidents has never been reported, as scrutiny typically focuses on the actions of police, not medics.

—we ought not call it surprising.

Time and time again, the AP found, agitated people who were held by police facedown, often handcuffed and with officers pushing on their backs, struggled to breathe and tried to get free. Citing combativeness, paramedics administered sedatives, further slowing their breathing. Cardiac and respiratory arrest often occurred within minutes.

Paramedics drugged some people who were not a threat to themselves or others, violating treatment guidelines. Medics often didn’t know whether other drugs or alcohol were in people’s systems, although some combinations cause serious side effects.

Police officers sometimes improperly encouraged paramedics to give shots to suspects they were detaining.

Responders occasionally joked about the medications’ power to knock their subjects out. “Night, night” is heard on videos before deaths in California, Tennessee and Florida.

Ketamine was used in "at least 19 cases", and midazolam in "roughly half" of the ninety-four sedation deaths in custody AP reviewed. Some episodes involved the use of antipsychotics such as haloperidol or ziprasidone.

The idea of "excited delirium" emerged in the 1980s, when a forensic pathologist sought to explain the deaths of agitated and violent cocaine users while restrained by police. Most famously, Dr. Charles Wetli used the term to describe the deaths of over a dozen black women, blaming cocaine and sexual activity for their deaths.

It would come to pass that the black women women were murdered by a serial killer, a white man named Charles who killed at least thirty-two people before dying of AIDS while awaiting trial.


Wetli’s theory survived. And over time, symptoms described by Wetli and others — “superhuman strength,” animal-like noises and high pain tolerance — became disproportionately assigned to Black people. The terms spread to police and emergency medical services to describe certain agitated people — and explain sudden deaths.

And, of course, it was in Florida that a grand jury, in 2006, trying to curb Taser deaths, recommended midazolam, which, as a medical question, was problematic; as far as medical practice was concerned, it was a risky treatment for a diagnosis that doesn't really exist. In 2008, a Minnesota doctor named Jeffrey Ho showed up at a Taser industry gathering to discuss chemical sedation and said, "Look. I’ve been using ketamine. It knocks them out quicker."

The American College of Emergency Physicians put together an expert panel including Ho, a Taser research consultant, a Taser testimonial expert witness, and "at least two other panelists were routinely retained by officers and their departments as expert witnesses" in order to establish that excited delirium was real¹, and recommended "aggressive chemcial sedation".

Ho and others were also included in a federal panel that would recommend a four-point approach: Identify "excited delirium" candidate, control or subdue, sedate, and then remove to a hospital.

And if, "over time, prominent medical groups and some experts pointed to overuse of sedation during police encounters and a disproportionate impact on Black people", it really shouldn't surprise anyone that practical application of racist pseudoscience would lead to racist impact in practice.

And that's just the ninety-four, and if "that’s nearly 10% of the more than 1,000 deaths identified during the investigation", we really cannot overlook the others, because the larger investigation was about the deaths of "people subdued by police in ways that are not supposed to be fatal". It's not just the ninety-four we know were sedated; a thousand deaths over the course of ten years, resulting from ostensibly nonlethal subdual policies dependent on pseudoscience, ought to make some sort of point in and of itself.


¹ In 2023, the organization withdrew its approval of the 2009 paper; per AP, "no major medical association legitimizes excited delirium".​

Foley, Ryan J., Carla K. Johnson, and Shelby Lum. "Dozens of deaths reveal risks of injecting sedatives into people restrained by police". Associated Press. 26 April 2024. APNews.com. 27 April 2024. https://bit.ly/3Qm26u0

See Also:

Doherty, Simon. "‘Excited Delirium’: The Junk Science That Covered Up a Serial Killer". Vice. 15 January 2024. Vice.com. 27 April 2024. https://bit.ly/44lgEjn