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Janklow defends his race record

PIERRE, S.D. - After he read the full report on civil rights in South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow had no change of opinion about the report meeting with members of the South Advisory committee, he pointed out statistical differences in the report.

The report, "Native Americans in South Dakota: An Erosion of Confidence in the Justice System," was made public March, 2000.

Early the governor went on Public Radio and criticized the report, calling it "garbage" without reading the report in its entirety. He read the report and arranged the meeting with the state committee on civil rights and invited members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to attend.

Attending were some members of the state's advisory committee on civil rights.

"We pledge our support to work on behalf of all of our citizens, and we urge you to engage in dialogue, not only with us, but especially with members of the Native American community who have lost confidence in the justice system and honestly believe they are treated in a non-fair and discriminatory manner.

"Perceptions are real and we must respond to their concerns in order to in integrity of our democratic ideals and our institutions," Marc Feinstein, chairman of the state advisory committee.

Janklow began the meeting by laying out his record of civil justice on the Rosebud Reservation while he was a young lawyer, just out of school. He said he was part of the first Legal Aid office in the state and was instrumental in expanding Legal Aid offices in other parts of the state.

"One of the things that bothers me about this report, over and over, when challenged on this report people say these are perceptions, we're are not saying they are facts. It's very important that the people of South Dakota and America understand that perceptions can sometimes become facts in people's minds, but they are unsubstantiated facts.

"We have to differ ourselves from what we call perceptions and what we call the facts."

He said statements in the report indicated Native Americans could not get a fair trial in South Dakota. He submitted names of people he defended for murder who were acquitted, thus proving his point that some people could get a fair trial.

As one example of his personal record on positive solutions to race discrepancies in the justice system, he relayed the story of his work in the Plenty Horse case that went to the State Supreme Court on his insistence. He said Plenty Horse did not receive a fair trial because of a biased jury. As a result, the selection of potential jurors in the state changed. The state now uses voter registration, he said.

Janklow said there would be no summit meeting with U.S. Civil Rights Commission Chairwoman Mary Frances Berry and other commissioners, because he said it would not be productive because no cross-examination of witnesses would take place and the facts would not be presented.

"Public forums are a great place for people to get up and harangue. Not much substantive gets done except venting. I'm more into substance than hyperbole. I'm far more interested in the facts," Janklow said.

Some members of the advisory committee supported Janklow's criticisms. Rae Brunette of Sioux Falls, admitted a report normally takes a year to prepare, but this one was written and issued in four months. Even though factual errors are part of the report, Brunette said she didn't want anyone to "lose sight of the spirit of the report."

Dr. Frank Pommersheim, a committee member and law professor at the University of South Dakota School of Law, said he didn't disagree that the report had flaws, but added it was better than no hearing at all.

"The report is about trying in a meaningful, patient, nuanced way at the state, federal and tribal levels to improve the way justice is delivered."

The only committee member to not sign the report, David Volk, said the one-day hearing served no purpose.

Janklow repudiated recommendations of the commission report, item by item. He criticized only those items that pertained to the state, not federal levels. He covered the gamut between unemployment statistics to incarceration numbers. A usual comparison of numbers of American Indians incarcerated in the state when compared to the population of American Indian people is higher than in North Dakota, a usual state with which to compare.

Janklow pointed out that South Dakota, statistics indicated that more crime from burglary to murder occurred in South Dakota, thus creating the disparity in data.

He pointed out the report was incorrect in its data on per-capita income on the Pine Ridge reservation. The report used 1990 statistics that listed $3,700 as the annual income, when in fact, Janklow said, a 1997 report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis has the income level at $9,753. He added this was still unacceptable because 46 percent of the people on the Pine Ridge live below the federal poverty line.

Janklow wanted the names of people who went unpunished for committing murder against a Native American, as the report said. Testimony at the Dec. 9 hearing revealed that information.

He was adamant that no one from the commission or state committee called the state's Human Rights office to get statistics, and the report indicated a civil rights office should be implemented.

As far as hate crimes, Janklow provided, in strong language, information about laws in South Dakota that punish anyone who performs a crime against someone because of the color of their skin or ethnic background. He pointed out that attorney's on the committee should have been aware of the laws that were already on the books.