by Jim Kent
A recent Hate Crimes Forum in Rapid City, South Dakota turned out to be quite a different gathering than Lakota people attending the event anticipated it would be. The law enforcement panel explained the technicalities behind hate crimes laws. Members of the Native American community were hoping for a longer discussion about incidents toward Native Americans and other groups.
Representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Justice, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Rapid City Police Department and Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, spoke for about 70 minutes on hate crimes, what they are and how they are prosecuted. They noted the difficulty in assigning the hate crimes designation to an offense and added that, collectively, they could not recall a hate crime being prosecuted in the Rapid City area.
After the panel presented, about 25 minutes was given for questions and comments. National Native News was asked not to tape audience remarks, but the vast majority of Native Americans there told us they were not happy with what they witnessed including a Native man, who asked not to be identified over fear for his safety.
“I left here 20 years ago because of this and I come back and it hasn’t changed one bit. What are we doing here? This is all just a show,” he said.
Stacey Low Dog advised the law enforcement panel that two non-Native women were brought to trial in 2009 for assaulting her niece. Both women were convicted of a hate crime.
“I expected a dialogue with the community,” said Low Dog. “I thought they would at least bring up this (her niece’s case), we successfully prosecuted this one hate crime. How they weren’t gonna’ tolerate this, it wasn’t even mentioned.”
Low Dog believes it is because of a lack of acknowledgement or interest in crimes against Lakota people that there is distrust of law enforcement in South Dakota by the Native community. U.S. Attorney Randy Seiler, who retires December 31, acknowledged the concerns expressed by Low Dog and others, noting there will be other forums in the future.