Rapid City, SD
The death of a Native American man at the hands of a white police officer in Rapid City has had emotions there running high since the incident Saturday night in North Rapid.
Leaders in the Native American community are calling for calm. So is the family of 30-year-old Allen Locke, who was shot by Officer Anthony Meirose at a home in the Lakota Community Homes.
Karin Eagle, editor of the Lakota Times newspaper, has been in contact with the family, and relays their pleas against anger and violence.
"The message that they keep sending out is to keep calling for peace, for people not to react with high emotions," Eagle says.
They family also asks for privacy, so they can go through the grieving process and bury their loved one.
"They're a very strong, solid, traditional family and they're supporting each other and holding each other up pretty well," Eagle says.
Major Sam Kooiker says the death was a tragedy and that Locke's family showed courage and care for the community in calling for peace.
"I'm very grateful for the family's call for peace and would encourage everyone to recognize that the cause and the discussion of race relations is an ongoing endeavor," Kooiker said. "And, again, there's no reason to conclude at this point that race was even a factor."
But Kooiker continues to say he stands with the police and Officer Meirose, and rejects insinuations by some in the Native community that the shooting was racially biased.
"And I think to take this one issue and try to make it an issue about race hurts the credibility of the entire conversation about race relations," Kooiker says. "There's no indication that race was factor at all. And I find it troubling that people would try to assess blame on our young officer in this situation."
Eagle says it's premature to make any judgments on the incident, but it's fair to say that some Native people are suspicious that race played a role in the shooting. Past experiences with police officers have led some to conclude they were treated differently because they were Native American, she said.
"There's been numerous occasions where maybe not a police killing, a shooting by a police officer, but there's been so many reports of harassment or even just an overreaction maybe by police," she said.
Some have suggested that a Taser or pepper spray might have been used against Locke instead of multiple rounds from the officer's firearm. Police have said Meirose was in a suddenly precarious situation and didn't have time for other options.
Whatever the details of the Locke incident, the overall issue of race remains a divisive force in Rapid City, Eagle says.
"This all adds to the sentiment that the police aren't here for the Native community, as far as the protection and service goes," she says. "The enforcement and policing of the Native community is what's very evident."
Locke was shot after Meirose had responded to a call from a home in Lakota COmmunity Homes for his removal from that home. The callers requesting his removal were Native Americans, and some in the home were in his family. Family and friends have questioned some of the details in the account offered by the police.
Locke had a history of criminal encounters with law enforcement, including DUI, marijuana possession and simple assault. But whatever his court history, his death is being mourned by those who knew him personally and others in the Native community who did not.
City officials should also show their concern for the family, and the loss of a city resident, Eagle said.
"I think it would help if the police department and the mayor's office and the city council would come foward and not add to the division of the Native American community and the non-Native community, by embracing this as a community tragedy and not just in the Native community," Eagle said.
Facing Christmas will be especially difficult on the family, she said.
"It's unimaginable for a family to face this at any time of the year, but especially right now," she said.
She said she also understands that it must be a difficult time for Officer Meirose, who is on adminstrative leave as the state Division of Criminal Investigation reviews the shooting.
"We need to extend our understanding that we have a police officer in this community who is dealing with this trauma and the aftermath," she said. "And that's something that's not going to go away very easily."