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Racial Tension
No Joke In The USA!

A report of the South Dakota Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights:
By Huntley Haverstock

We were disturbed by news of racial crimes that appeared this week and, as usual, were barely given screentime by the major media moguls. Rather than concocting some silly April Fool's Day headline, we decided to pass along more sobering news.  An article on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission report concerning recent crimes against Native Americans appears below, but please read the others linked at left as well.

It's sad to note that so little has changed in our country in the last century, and how much more needs to be done to end the racism, discrimination, xenophobia, and other intolerance that still infects our daily lives.

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Racial Enmity Between Whites and Native Americans
Associated Press Writer

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) MARCH 29, 2000 — The bodies of Ronald Hard Heart and Wilson Black Elk Jr. were found last summer in a culvert near the Nebraska line, the apparent victims of a brutal beating.

Though the slayings are unsolved, they haven't been forgotten.

Those deaths — as well as several recent violent incidents involving American Indians — have heightened long-standing tensions between whites and the state's largest minority group.

Alarmed at the rising racial enmity, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission released a report Tuesday saying South Dakota law enforcement agencies must work harder to change American Indians' dim view of authorities.

In addition to the deaths of Hard Heart and Black Elk, frustration has built over the handling of an Indian who died after being stuffed into a garbage can in Mobridge, and an Indian who was struck and killed on a road in Roberts County, in northeastern South Dakota.

"I have not been in an area where the divide and the suspicion between racial groups is as great as it is in South Dakota,'' said Cruz Reynoso, vice chairman of the commission.

The white population in South Dakota is 669,007, or 90.6 percent of the total. American Indians are by far the largest minority group, making up 8 percent, or 59,292. Only Alaska and New Mexico have larger percentages of American Indian residents.

Still, distrust of law officers runs high in and around South Dakota's nine reservations, where unemployment often is staggering and alcoholism widespread.

"There is a widespread perception that there is a dual system of justice — one for whites and another for Indians,'' said Marc Feinstein, chairman of the advisory panel.

Highlighting the divide, several members of the Sioux tribe, which includes Lakota, Dakota and Nakota, held up a banner Tuesday in the back of the meeting room as the report was released. It read "Stop Lakota Ethnic Cleansing.''

Much of the distrust can be traced to the American Indian Movement's 1973 armed takeover of a trading post at Wounded Knee to protest the government's handling of their complaints. In 71 days of unrest, two Indians were killed and a deputy marshal was wounded.

The commission noted a series of Indian deaths — in addition to the slayings of Hard Heart and Black Elk — all of which have deepened the perception of inequality:

— Since May 1998, the bodies of eight men, six of them Indian, have been found drowned in the shallow waters of Rapid Creek. Most were homeless; all but one had a high blood-alcohol level. No arrests have been made.

— In Mobridge, near the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, the body of 22-year-old Robert Many Horses was found June 30. He had been stuffed headfirst into a garbage can. After an autopsy revealed he died of alcohol poisoning, charges against the four white teen-agers implicated in his death were dropped.

— In the spring of 1999, a pickup truck struck and killed a 21-year-old Justin Redday on a deserted stretch of road in Roberts County. Though a grand jury indicted Mark Appel for vehicular homicide, prosecutors instead charged Appel with driving while intoxicated.

The report urges Attorney General Janet Reno to appoint a task force to address claims that race dictates how authorities investigate and prosecute criminal cases.

The report also recommends hate-crimes legislation at the state level and stronger federal measures to deal with race-related crime. And it urges Gov. Bill Janklow to convene a summit with Indian groups to come up with legislation more responsive to their needs.

Mary Frances Berry, chairwoman of the commission, reiterated Tuesday the claim she made in December that federal law officers often care little about Indians' concerns over justice.

An FBI official who oversees agents in South Dakota disputed allegations in the report, saying the commissioners' two-day visit in December was too brief to provide a clear view of relations between federal law enforcement and Indians.

"A lot of the research they did is just wafer-thin,'' said Chip Burrus, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Minneapolis office.

"They basically tar every agent in South Dakota,'' he said of the report's authors. "It's a vote of no confidence, and I think that's just wrong.''

Burrus denied the suggestion that FBI agents are slow to act when a crime involves Indians. "We have moved heaven and earth trying to solve murder cases in South Dakota.''

Burrus said Indians called on the FBI recently when protesters took over Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux tribal headquarters at Agency Village. Indians also sought the FBI's help in the ongoing takeover of Oglala Sioux headquarters at the Pine Ridge reservation.

Those are not the actions of a people who have no faith in the FBI, Burrus said, adding that the FBI also does informal public relations work and tries to keep Indians up to date on a given probe.

"Our agents are very comfortable with native Americans,'' he said. "Native Americans and non-native Americans have a lot of confidence in the FBI.''

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