By Melvin Martin, Oglala Lakota Nation
Mr. Tim Giago is perfectly right regarding how Indian people, in the case of Pennington County jail inmates, are depicted on Rapid City, South Dakota's local television news stations (in Giago's opinion piece he does not identify the location of the town until the sixth paragraph, so I felt compelled to mention the location here in the first paragraph of my response).
Given my many, many travels over the years I do not know of anywhere else in these United States, even in jerkwater burgs like Rapid City, where jail birds of a specific ethnicity are purposely displayed in such an unusually frequent and highly graphic manner to local audiences.
In Rapid City, the television stations in question are continuously engaged in the active and aggressive dissemination of extremely negative imagery of Indian people by a daily depiction of Indians incarcerated downtown for mainly minor offenses. I myself was even shown on a few local stations one day in the winter of 1995 as I went to court charged with possession of a concealed weapon (PCW); which was a $2.00 Chinese-made, Kmart pocket knife with a three-inch blade that I used for my leatherwork. As I so vividly recall, I was picked up at two in the morning on a Sunday, the day before Monday's morning court session, as I walked home in the snow from my friend's house after helping him with his pet deer. Released after agreeing to pay court costs, I saw myself on TV that same night--I do not look very nice at all in a bright orange jumpsuit! Anyway, I digress....
At the Rapid City jail, after a breakfast that usually consists of powdered eggs mixed with garbage can-smelling potatoes with rotten onions, burnt-black toast and a plastic mug of sour milk, the inmates are shackled together with handcuffs that are attached to extra-thick chains wrapped around their waists that lead to chains on their ankles that are in turn connected to a communal chain of ten inmates. Then in a huge, unwieldy chain gang, the prisoners are led to their court hearings by non-Indian jail guards with shit-eating grins and stupid smirks on their faces where they all sit before the judge still chained to each other. If anyone has to urinate, the whole chain gang has to get up and go out in the hallway behind a black canvas curtain where plastic, hospital-type urinals are passed from person-to-person. (Note: I am recalling my own experiences here and I heard some years ago that the jail discontinued the use of the urinals after a crazed, probably very dehydrated, wino took a great big swig from one of the full containers.)
Before entering the courthouse, that is conveniently situated in the same building complex as the jail, the prisoner who is the focus of the news segment is always shown in an extreme close-up from a vantage point that is one story above ground level as he or she exits one door to enter another. The cameras then linger for several moments on other Indians as the narrator drones on anywhere from thirty seconds to one minute. Most of the time the cameras will continue to display footage of the inmates without any voice-over narration for perhaps ten more seconds or so. The Jack Caudill that Mr. Giago makes mention of always has a most peculiar smile and a wild gleam in his eye after each and every Indian inmate segment of his twice-daily news program.
Clearly, the intent here with this type of video footage is to cast Indian people in as bad a light as possible for local consumption. As for stories concerning Indians in the local newspaper, I have to conservatively estimate that 90% of all Indian-related stories are negative, but especially the thrice-weekly federal court docket for crimes committed on the reservations in western South Dakota.
I, for one, truly believe that these television stations and the main newspaper are working hand-in-hand behind-the scenes with the racist powers-that-be in Rapid City in the ongoing campaign to thoroughly demonize Indian people with the sole objective of rendering all Indians there as wholly undesirable and just not worthy of living in the community at all. So, what else there is new?
Denial ain't just a river in Africa
Racists lack self-esteem
"Gooks" assaulted with BBs, urine