This week the Rapid City Journal, www.rapidcityjournal.com
, featured a seven-part (plus one video) examination of the problems that the city is having with public intoxication, with the bulk of the reportage focusing on how almost all of the street alcoholics, drunks, vagrants, derelicts, bums, beggars, winos and homeless are Indians.
I watched the video, where two non-Indian police officers on patrol essentially bemoan (AKA "cry around" if you´re Indian) the inescapable reality that a portion of their assigned duties consist of having to deal with what is made to seem like a vast multitude of Indian inebriants who are taxing local law enforcement and medical services to no end. The seven articles amount to what constitutes subjectively supporting evidence (since no public records as to ethnicity are maintained, even by the police) as to the serious nature of public intoxication that is wholly driven by Indian people.
I lived in downtown Rapid City from August of 1995 through June of 1999 and again from June of 2003 until September of 2006. During the second period, I worked just three blocks from where I lived and I also managed an apartment complex in the heart of the downtown area. As I distinctly recall, the "Native drunk problem" was never as bad as the articles indicate. In those days there were perhaps two or three handfuls of Indian street people with colorful names like G Bear, June Bug, Pebbles, Pete the Flip, Jake the Snake, Sparkle, Biscuit and a few others whose names I did not know - lonely, tragic figures who not once gave me any problems whatsoever; surprisingly talented people gifted at producing various types of artwork that they´d offer for sale at the "Indian discount" of 50% off; they were humble, soft-spoken and they always greeted me with toothless smiles, corny jokes and laughter.
I knew that they were alcoholics, I knew that they slept outside, I knew that they were malnourished, I knew that they were horribly alienated from their families, I knew that most of them were dying with each passing day and so it was with a heart full of regret, and many prayers for their health and safety, that I occasionally handed them a quarter or a dime or several pennies. They would always thank me very graciously after wishing me a good day.
And in 1997 when I was hit by a '57 Studebaker, driven by a 95-year old, semi-blind, white lady (I was crossing an alleyway exit/entrance on my $500 mountain bike and was thrown up onto the hood of her car), it was Indian street people who came to my rescue.
I lived at the apartment buildings downtown where I was fully compensated for my monthly rent by functioning as the "property contact" there. There were ten establishments that served alcohol all within a five minute or less walk from my apartment. On Wednesday, the so-called "Hump Night," and on Friday and Saturday nights, the people who were worse drunks than any of the local street denizens would come out in droves to play - and if there were ever substantially serious problems that involved lots of people drinking downtown, it was on these nights that I witnessed the most horrific mixtures of human beings and copious amounts of alcohol. 90% of these revelers were non-Indian - primarily white people, most of whom were in their twenties.
During the first period of time that I lived in downtown Rapid City, I always went to bed early and slept like I was dead as I had a job in social services that was so emotionally taxing that after my evening meal and perhaps a TV show I was out by ten p.m. When I managed the apartments I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. nightly as I was always on call for some kind of disturbance that partiers, individuals or groups of people, were causing. I cannot remember with any degree of exactitude how many fights I saw, how many times I saw drunken kids trying to kill each other with fists, feet, clubs, bottles, knives and vehicles. I have tried desperately to forget how many times I saw, from my living room window, dangerously drunken twenty-somethings (and younger) publicly urinating, defecating, vomiting and fornicating in the parking lots and on the sidewalks.
And the Rapid City police were there when I reported these activities, not always there in a timely manner and sometimes not even there at all. But they knew who the really problematic drunks were. They knew.
And the good citizens of Rapid City knew too. For, unlike the police, the fire department and the emergency medical personnel there, they are experts at objectively assessing the problem of public intoxication in that town - just like the innovative person who provided the following commentary (as is) to one of the seven articles:
Cant hide it ...Blend it. wrote on May 17, 2009 8:11 AM:
" How about a traditionsl native village with teepees and such. Then have all the cornerstone mission folks dress in traditional native costumes and the stage is set. Now they are a local tourist attraction, why not in front of the Journey Museum. Let the tourists give donations to the mission. Heck, with a little marketing it could be a big deal and it gets all the drunks and homeless working doing what they do every day. If it gets a little to rowdy get the cops involved. They could come riding in wearing calvary uniforms, round up the hostiles and everthing is back to normal "
Melvin Martin is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota.
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