April 19, 2008
Editorial: Intimidating tactics
State's response to hog farm protest recalls earlier era
They came, it seemed, prepared to quell an uprising.
As many as 50 patrol cars, more than police the entire state at any given time, showed up at a small, organized and peaceful protest of a hog confinement facility near Wagner this week.
The number of protesters barely exceeded 100.
South Dakota still struggles with a tense relationship between our races and cultures, and overreactions such as the state's strain that relationship even further.
Certainly, some law enforcement presence at a potentially contentious protest is justified.
But unless the state received a threat, which if it did, it has not yet made public, the unnecessary show of force felt like an intimidation tactic.
Members of the Yankton Sioux Tribe organized the protest, and most of the protesters were Indian. That seems sadly relevant now. Would a legal and peaceful protest of this scale have drawn the same response had it taken place in Sioux Falls or, more to the point, involved primarily non-Indians? Doubtful.
Again and again in recent years, the state has failed to work to improve race relations in any meaningful way. Sovereignty, it says, makes it impossible. Jurisdictional issues keep us from getting involved.
But the state did get involved this week, and it made things worse.
The disproportionate response to the protest reinforced inaccurate historical stereotypes. The outdated and embarrassing idea that any large gathering of Native Americans means trouble should have died long ago. Anyone who exercised their constitutional right to assemble this week should be forgiven for believing that perception is alive and well.
The burden now falls on the state and Gov. Mike Rounds to justify this use of taxpayer money and public safety resources to police a small group of protesters.
Unless the state truly can justify sending one trooper for every two protesters to rural Charles Mix County, an apology is due.
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