One of the top ten songs from the 1960’s civil rights protest era that keeps playing in my head these days is, “Ain’t Gonna Be Nobody Turn Me Around.” In the summer of 2019 when I co-founded the Riverton Peace Mission to be more than just an annual Peace March, I had no idea how much more. But the Riverton Peace Mission has become the conscience for a border town controlled by white settlers where violence, discrimination, and disrespect towards Indigenous people is now by and large acceptable. Our conscience now says, Not anymore!
What I believe stimulated a conscience into being was a white Riverton police officer killing Andy Antelope with a gun close range at Walmart on a Saturday afternoon on September 29, 2019 with still absolutely no police accountability and Walmart having stayed open while people walked around a dead body gawking.
Accountability will only happen now if we the people – red, brown, and white – together demand it. How do we do that without the cooperation of community leaders? The answer is in organizing, engaging, and committing. The Riverton Peace Mission organized the Wind River Justice Pod as the planning and action arm that is growing in numbers, strength, knowledge, and strategies to continue the journey.
But let us be clear. This time, we cannot let anybody turn us around! The killing of Andy Antelope is not just another incident that will go down in the history of Fremont County barely to be remembered and something for the family and friends of Andy Antelope to get over. We cannot and we will not let anybody turn us around, however much some try to make that happen.
Anderson Antelope, Jr., grieving his father’s death, is in prison in Torrington being harassed by guards who tell him that he just needs to just get over his father’s death. He had not told the guards about his father, but they knew about his desire to file a lawsuit for justice. The way I see it, Anderson Antelope, Jr., is not in prison for a felony because he tried to shoplift a few items of clothing from Walmart that never even left the store (ordinarily a misdemeanor at most), but because he wanted accountability from the system that killed his father, the same system that also had the power to put Anderson Antelope, Jr., in prison.
It took a community to allow a police officer to kill Andy Antelope, and it will take a community to obtain accountability and justice. A recent frontpage report in the Riverton Ranger referred to Native Americans involved in an incident on Federal Avenue as “transients” as if they are people just passing through. Being homeless does not end being part of the community with family ties and roots as deep as any white settlers referred to as residents.
Here are three ways you can help.
Today or this week, write a letter to Anderson Antelope, Jr., letting him know that you support justice for his father, that we are standing with him for police accountability and that he is not alone! Do not include anything with whiteout, glue, staples or paperclips.
Join the Wind River Justice Pod and/or one of the four committees.
Send a check to support the Riverton Peace Mission, PO Box 255, Riverton WY 82501. We have selected a young woman in graduate school who now works for the Southern Poverty Law Center to work for us, but we need more funds before we can bring her on board.
Fear not. Be bold. Build relationships. Be humble. Do justice.