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Native Sun News: DOJ official visits Rapid City after racial flap

The following story was written and reported by Richie Richards, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.

Carol Russo addresses racism at HeSapa Forum in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Justice Department visits Rapid City
By Richie Richards
Native Sun News Staff Writer

RAPID CITY –– The racism in Rapid City has drawn national and international attention from organizations asking for change for the betterment of race relations; including Carol Russo from the United States Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service (CRS).

According to the DOJ’s website, “The Community Relations Service is the Department's "Peacemaker" for community conflicts and tensions arising from differences of race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion and disability. CRS is not an investigatory or prosecutorial agency, and it does not have any law enforcement authority.”

The Rocky Mountain Region’s Regional Director, Carol Russo, was invited in as a federal witness and monitor to the recent events happening in Rapid City. Russo has met with city leaders as well as Native American community leaders working towards reconciliation and reparation of race relations.

During her visit, she attended the HeSapa Forum organized by Co-Pastor Larry Salway of the HeSapa New Life Wesleyan Church. Over 100 people gathered on the evening of Jan. 9; including Mayor Sam Kooiker, Police Chief Karl Jegeris, Carol Russo, and many Native Americans with a vested interested in the safety of the community.

Pastor Salway opened the forum with a discussion on needs and purpose of such gathering, saying, “There is a need for a forum in hopes that we can begin the healing process and racial reconciliation. This started way back when, but we can begin improving race relations now.”

Director Russo, also spoke to the crowd about the need for communication and reconciliation.

The following day, Russo attended a press conference held by local organizers along with the National Coalition against Racism in Sports and Media. Clyde Bellecourt, Henry Boucha, Tom Poor Bear and others spoke out against racism in the Civic Center and Rapid City. That evening, she looked on during a rally held at the Civic Center during the Rapid City Rush’s hockey game.

On Jan. 11, she was invited to sit in on a special meeting called by the Human Relations Commission.

Director Russo talked to the members of the HRC as to her role on the CRS saying, “It is critical to remain neutral and impartial to ensure their work is fair. I’m not the voice of the community. My role is to connect the stakeholders in the conflict.”

She was there to share what other communities were doing in human relations and conflict resolution. Although the Human Relations Commission of Rapid City is a place to file complaints regarding discrimination, they are limited in their powers and jurisdiction.

The HRC revealed positive changes happening; including the revamping of their webpage to make it user-friendly and increase accessibility, PSA’s are being organized for informational purposes, plans for educational outreach are in the works, as well as publishing the steps to file a complaint.

The public was invited to the meeting and had the opportunity to voice concerns. Among the commonalities of these grievances were the seemingly lack of jurisdictional parameters and HRC’s inability to handle the racism at the Civic Center.

Director Russo’s work is confidential in nature and there will not be a published report of her time in Rapid City. This article is a record of the federal pressure placed upon city leaders and the police department to right the wrongs and bring reconciliation to a city fumbling in their efforts.

Equality in justice is a right to every citizen regardless of socio-political status.

(Contact Richie Richards at Copyright permission Native Sun News

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