<+>=<+>KOLA Newslist<+>=<+>
2000    -24
Why is Leonard Peltier still in jail?!
[article provided by Pat Morris. Thanks!],3153,262408,00.html
Published Wednesday December 08, 1999
Action Promised on Indian Claims

Rapid City, S.D. - After hearing more than 12 hours of complaints
about the treatment of American Indians in South Dakota and
neighboring Nebraska, a national civil rights official gave one
All that talk would result in action.
Mary Frances Berry, chairwoman of the U.S. Civil Rights
Commission, pledged that the panel would complete its report
and recommendations within 90 days to address allegations of
unequal treatment of Indians.
Unlike a similar set of civil rights hearings held in Rapid City in
1976 after political unrest and violence on the Pine Ridge Indian
Reservation, Berry said the new report would not sit idly on a shelf.
Steps are already being taken, she said, comparing the testimony
that concluded late Monday to complaints the commission has
heard at other "forgotten communities of America" like those in
Appalachia and the Delta country of Mississippi.
It was just worse in South Dakota and Nebraska, Berry said.
"The sense of powerlessness, hopelessness and the number of
complaints about police brutality were enormous compared to
places we've been," she said.
The commission visited South Dakota and nearby Nebraska
communities of  Whiteclay and Rushville to investigate a series of
deaths of Indian men over the past several months.
Indians told commissioners that the deaths - including those of
two Pine Ridge residents near Whiteclay - illustrate an unequal
standard of justice for Indians and whites in the region and lack
of sensitivity to Indian concerns.
Deaths of Indians are not investigated as vigorously and unsolved
murders are soon forgotten, some testified Monday, leveling
criticism at understaffed and undertrained tribal police and,
especially, the FBI, which is widely distrusted by most Indians.
White officials, meanwhile, acknowledged that there are problems
in Indian-white relations in South Dakota, but conditions are
"Thirty-five years ago, if we found a drunk Indian on the street
you'd put him in a garbage can and let him sober up," said Rapid
City Police Chief Thomas Hennies.
"I personally know that there is racism and discrimination and
prejudice among all people," Hennies said, "and those of us who
head these agencies are trying to eliminate that behavior. But it's
not something that happens overnight."
Complaints from Indians ranged much broader than recent
events. Some speakers asked the commission to investigate the
broken treaties of the 1800s that took western South Dakota away
from the Sioux. Others said the panel should probe the dozens of
unsolved murders in the 1970s following the occupation of Wounded
Knee by American Indian Movement activists.
Others gave more recent and more personal stories: A sobbing
Wagner, S.D., couple said local authorities refused to investigate
the alleged sexual assault of their 13-year-old daughter at the hands
of a non-Indian; a wheelchair bound, 90-year-old Sisseton, S.D.,
grandmother said she was assaulted by a town and tribal cop.
"We need justice today, not tomorrow, today," the Wagner woman
said. "You've got to do something about it."
As testimony continued, Berry left her chairwoman's seat and
walked to the couple from Wagner, consoling them and directing
them to provide nformation to an FBI agent waiting nearby.
She said Native Americans need to realize that as depressing as
conditions are, they have improved, and the visit of the commission
has already resulted in some action.
The FBI, Berry said, will immediately look into allegations of
uninvestigated criminal matters, and civil rights staffers will explore
claims of police brutality.
She said she was encouraged to hear a Bureau of Indian Affairs
official say Monday that it is looking at using $1.5 million in funds
originally intended for prison construction to build a detoxification
center at Pine Ridge. Berry and other commissioners said during
a Sunday visit there and to nearby Whiteclay that an overnight detox
center was sorely needed to get vulnerable intoxicated people off
the streets.
She was also encouraged to hear the attorney for one of the men
killed at Whiteclay say that he expects arrests soon in the slayings.
"Objectively, there has been some change," Berry said. "Twenty
five years ago, people wouldn't have cared that eight men fell into
a creek and died. Now, we have three agencies forming a task force
to investigate."
Eight homeless men - six of them Indians - have been found dead
in Rapid Creek, which runs through Rapid City, in the past 18 months.
As far as recommendations, Berry said it appears a reconciliation
effort is sorely needed to improve Indian-white relations. Such an
effort was begun under the late Gov. George Mickelson's administration,
but was dropped when current Gov. Bill Janklow took office.
Speakers suggested several things: more Indian FBI agents and
police officers; formation of police oversight committees; better public-
relations efforts by the FBI; investigation of unequal jail sentences
and arrests of Indians; and forcing local judges to allow the use of
bail bondsmen.
Because judges won't allow the use of bondsmen, Indians lacking
their own bail funds must remain in jail. Often, they plead guilty to a
crime so they can be released rather than wait up to 180 days in jail
for a trial, said Brad Peterson, a legal-services attorney from Fort
Yates, S.D.
"It's hard to explain that 'you have rights' as opposed to, 'I just want to
go home to my family,' " Peterson said. He added that Indians are
targeted by police. He said he's had clients pulled over by police for
things as minor as a bent license plate and an air freshener hanging
from the rearview mirror.
The actual civil rights report will be written by a South Dakota advisory
committee with the help of federal civil rights staffers. The federal
commission, headed by Berry, a Philadelphia college professor and
lawyer and former University of Colorado chancellor, will decide how
to proceed and suggest action by government agencies.


Reply via email to