Chesie's Journal: Bordertown Blues

Protecting private property is more important than police accountability in Riverton, Wyoming...

At the last Riverton City Council meeting, vandalism was brought up during public comment. A woman spoke passionately about how upsetting for her to be in poor health and forced to return to Riverton to check on her property. A man invited people to a neighborhood watch type of meeting. Homeless natives are perceived to be the problem.

The response the speakers received was in sharp contrast to what I received when I spoke at a City Council meeting months ago requesting the City’s cooperation with a public inquest of the police killing of Andy Antelope while eating a hot dog outside of Walmart. Mayor Gard assured the property owners that he and the police would work with them, and would get boys to remove graffiti.

In contrast, when I spoke in 2019 a few days after the County Attorney without a Grand Jury investigation had announced that the killing of Andy Antelope was in self-defense, the Chief of Police told me that if subpoenaed, the police would not participate in a public inquest. The Mayor supported that position.

No police accountability, nor revisions in police policies have occurred that would signal that such a killing would not happen again. Police policies were revised to add required body cams, although little trust exists that the body cams won’t mysteriously "malfunction" to record any police misconduct.

I am sorry that Tony Tolstedt is resigning as City Manager to take a job in Tennessee. At least he had been willing to listen, although we were frustrated that solutions that he sought indicated no belief of police brutality towards Native Americans. He would not consider police accountability measures, nor restoring the position of Ombudsman that had been created after the shootings in 2015.

To serve a Reservation bordertown like Riverton, the new City Manager hired needs to understand with empathy why the homelessness, mental illness, and addictions here. The City Manager needs to address police bias and support accountability. Solutions must come with input from Natives, not just white property owners.

Fear not. Be humble. Have faith. Be bold. Build relationships. Do justice.

Chesie Lee

Riverton Peace Mission

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