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December 19, 2014 10:00 PM

Police Protest Rally Aimed At Racial Awareness

Rapid City, SD

A nationwide protest over police treatment of minorities came to Rapid City today, focusing on alleged racism toward Native Americans and a string of Native American deaths along Rapid Creek.

Demonstrators came from across South Dakota and beyond to protest what they believe is unjust treatment of Native Americans by Rapid City police.

They gathered in Memorial Park adjacent to the Lakota Nation Invitational sports and cultural event at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. Demonstrators called out the names of Native Americans found dead along Rapid Creek over more than 15 years, arguing that many of the deaths weren't solved because non-Indian investigators didn't care.

"We're tired of our people being found dead in this creek. No investigations. They're unsolved," Julee Richards of Pine Ridge said.

Police say the string of deaths, including one last week, along the creek were thoroughly investigated. Some appeared to be drownings or other natural causes. In some instances alcohol was involved. Buy some of the deaths remain a mystery.

Protesters gave speeches, sang and in at least one case did a little rap at the band shell in Memorial Park. Then they marched along Fifth and Omaha streets adjoining the park, where some in the busy flow of passing cars honked and shouted encouragement.

Sometimes the demonstrators marched with hands above their heads, calling out "hands up, don't shoot," as protesters elsewhere have done. Demonstrators say the same problems with police that are being protested across the nation exist here in Rapid City.

"And we're not going to go away, we're going to keep this up until we get justice," Richards said.

The protest didn't affect the Lakota Nation Invitational. The event, celebrating its 38th year, draws thousands of Native Americans and non-Native spectators to see high-quality basketball and other sports, as well as traditional Native American games, art, cultural displays and education exhibits and contests.

Little Wound High School Assistant Coach Oitancan Mani Zephier said the protest didn't disrupt LNI. He said he was too busy with basketball duties to join the protest outside. But he also said he supports the awareness campaign.

"I sympathize with them," Zephier said. "I believe the cause is legitimate. And I'd be out there myself if I wasn't taking care of my team."

Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris originally denied a permit for a protest march down Main Street later in the day. Jegeris said allowing the demonstration on busy streets as darkness settled in on the city would have been an extreme safety hazard. But the permit was granted for a protest earlier in the afternoon that stayed in the Memorial Park area and along the adjoining streets.

Jegeris said the initial rejection of the permit was all based on safety concerns, not the fact that the protest was about police.

Whatever the structure of the demonstration, those who joined in believe it will matter. One protester who goes only by the name Standing Soldier said a similar protest earlier in Sioux Falls, where he now lives, was successful. He said the Rapid City demonstration, and others that could follow, will matter to Lakota children in the future.

"It's time now that those who are non-tribal members, those of the dominant society, really start taking a hard look at the history of what has happened to our people, and what is still happening, because of the color of their skin," Standing Soldier said. "So we want to draw awareness. It's all about awareness."

Rapid City police were nearby during the protest but kept a comfortable distance of 50 to 100 yards or more, often drifting away so they were barely in sight.

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