Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
Forum focuses on racial disparity
Indian youths treated differently, speakers say; teen's hearing Friday
SISSETON -- Cars in downtown were stopped and searched by police one after another Friday night in this community of 2,500 as flashing red and amber lights illuminated the street.
Some Sisseton-Wahpeton tribal members, especially teen-agers, said they're tired of what they said is a regular weekend influx of law enforcement.
A public forum Friday ad-dressed community concerns about juvenile justice and police tactics, which members of the town's Dakota minority call racial profiling.
About 40 people, mostly from the Native American community, attended the forum.
Audrey Oliver, 20, an enrolled tribal member, and others say they are pulled over often for dirty license plates, window tints and having items dangling from their rearview mirrors. And they said they think sometimes they're pulled over for being Native American.
"I think they're all pretty shady, and I don't trust any of them, especially the highway patrol," said Oliver, 20.
Forum leaders talked about establishing a fund for Native American defendants and urged law enforcement officers to consider recording the race of those they cite.
No members of local law enforcement were on the panel. State highway patrol officials from the Watertown office, which is responsible for the Sisseton area, did not return a call for comment.
Jake Thompson, Sisseton-Wahpeton vice chairman, and Jennifer Ring, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the Dakotas, led the forum.
"Racism cuts to the very core of our being," said Shirley Duggan, a Dakota activist who organized the event. "We must confront institutionalized racism every time it rears its ugly head."
Thompson said the tribal council should establish a legal trust fund for Native American defendants in state and federal court, which should be used to retain specialized criminal defense lawyer.
"Absent that, our children will continue to be incarcerated for minor crimes, or transferred to adult court," Thompson said. "The absence of good attorneys is detrimental to our people."
Duggan's daughter, Adelia Godfrey, 17, is one juvenile whose case could be moved to adult court, where her two charges of aggravated assault carry a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.
Godfrey was one of several Native American girls in the juvenile prison at Plankinton who harmed themselves to bring attention to the conditions of their confinement.
She is in custody again after police said she sprayed an officer with a fire extinguisher, kicked and spat.
Robert's County State's Attorney Kay Nikolas wants Godfrey's case transferred to adult court.
The transfer hearing is Friday in Sisseton.
"The state's attorney denies these charges are race-based, but all you have to do is ask any Native American child or adult in this town, and you'll find out exactly what the truth is," Duggan said.
Nikolas declined comment on the activists' claim that only the cases of Native American youths are transferred to adult court.
"I can't comment on juvenile court stuff," said Nikolas, who did not attend the forum and declined further comment.
Ring estimates 40 to 60 percent of the youths in the state's juvenile system are Native American, and she said the outcome for them is different than it is for other South Dakotans.
"Juvenile corrections is a Native issue," Ring said.
She said the ACLU considers the state's continuing practice of "grossly over-incarcerating juveniles is the single greatest outrage."
She railed against state law enforcement for not recording the race of people they contact or cite despite a growing national furor regarding racial profiling.
"Police departments are not doing it," she said. "I wonder why?"
One local lawman, who sat through the forum but did not participate, declined to comment on what he heard.
"I don't want to get into trouble," said Rodger Carlson, a Roberts County deputy sheriff who is running for sheriff to fill the vacancy created by Sheriff Neil Long, who is retiring at the end of this term.
If elected, Carlson said he hopes to improve relations between the sheriff's department and the tribe.
"I certainly would," he said.
Reach reporter Lee Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org or 331-2318
The stereotype here is that Indians—or any minority—are less upstanding and more inclined to crime than Anglos.
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