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The Inequity of Justice and Reporting in South Dakota

Late last week the South Dakota Department of Criminal Investigation released the findings of its investigation into the shooting death of Allan Locke on December 20, 2014, in the Lakota Homes neighborhood of Rapid City, South Dakota. The shooting occurred the day after Locke attended a protest against unnecessary police shootings.

The investigation cleared Rapid City Police Officer Tony Meirose, and shortly after, the non-Native media in South Dakota reported the results of the investigation without critical inquiry, as they have done for years and years, in incidents involving altercations between law enforcement and Native people. The reporting received praise, likes, and shares on the Facebook pages of local print and television media outlets along with blatantly racist comments from page visitors about Native people.

Although the independent Native media reported an alternative account of what took place that night, the Native community in Rapid City was once again left out of the conversation. Local journalists failed to dig beyond the public statements made by city officials who did everything in their power to show support for the RCPD, even without a proper investigation having been completed.

While the South Dakota media served as a propaganda machine for the city and its police department, Native people were busy doing their own research unveiling relevant facts surrounding the incident including posts from the officer involved. The posts depict a culture of bigotry and brutality within the RCPD against the poor and minority communities in the city.

Amanda Blackhorse. Photo by Jacqueline Keeler.

Amanda Blackhorse. Photo by Jacqueline Keeler.

Although the posts in no way indicate that Meirose shot Locke in cold blood, it does point to a worldview that is prevalent within parts of the law enforcement community that depicts poor and minority communities as the antagonists who are ultimately deserving of justice doled out from the barrel of a gun.

In order for a police officer to be deemed legally justified in shooting an individual, the Supreme Court has ruled that an actual threat to an officer or bystanders’ lives need not be present, only that the officer reasonably believes that there is a threat to his or others’ lives. This, in combination with a belief that each and every police officer is unquestionably credible, has resulted in very few formal charges ever being filed against cops.

Rapid City has never seen one if its officers face charges in the shooting death of a Native American despite these incidents occurring far more often than with any other racial group.

If all it takes is for an officer to believe that an individual is a threat to justify the use of deadly force, then one must ask how an officer like Meirose was influenced by the bigoted posts he had shared on social media in the months leading up to the shooting? Have he and other officers entered homes or conducted traffic stops with the predetermined mindset of entering into a physical altercation as the second meme suggests? Do Meirose and other officers who clicked “like” on his post believe that those on EBT deserve second-rate policing as a result of their poverty?

We will likely never know how his thought process was impacted by this mindset but it would seem that both the media and other honest cops would be willing to speak out against the spread of ignorance like that displayed on the shooter’s Facebook page.

Speaking out against police brutality, corrupt cops and unnecessary shootings is in no way an indictment of the majority of honest police officers across the country. It is simply the duty of the press and of good cops to expose wrongdoing, criticize bigotry, and to protect and serve the people.

Brandon Ecoffey is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and a lifelong resident of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation who earned his education from Dartmouth College. He is the former managing editor of Native Sun News, the Life editor at Native Max Magazine, and a contributor to Indian Country Today Media Network, Lakota Country Times, and