Members of the North Rapid community greeted Rapid City Police Chief Steve Allender with thanks and concerns about racism at a North Middle School forum Thursday night.
Allender hosted the forum in the aftermath of the Aug. 2 shooting at a North Rapid intersection in which two police officers and the civilian shooter died.
More than 200 people attended the forum, where Allender discussed efforts to fight crime in North Rapid before taking questions.
Although Allender and the Rapid City Police Department received applause and plaudits during the two-hour forum, there was also plenty of criticism.
Multiple audience members told Allender they see problems with racism against Native Americans from police officers.
“I know that there are good cops out there, and there are racist cops,” Sandra Little said. “I’ve seen it. I’ve lived here most of my life.”
Allender defended the department but also asked for help.
“My preference is that we would never have another shooting, ever, involving a Native American,” he said.
Saying it was “probably very unprofessional to say,” Allender said that “as a white police chief, I wish we would only use force against white people, because it would erase that issue that’s so hard to deal with and is so troubling for so many people.”
Allender said more than 50 percent of the Rapid City Police Department’s arrests are of Native Americans–far larger than the Native share of the population. He noted that a large number of those involved both victims and perpetrators who are Native Americans. “We have more contact with Native American people than we do non-Native; I can’t lie about that,” he said.
After multiple speakers called on the police department to hire more Native officers, Allender said the police department had tried and failed in the past.
“If you have a great idea for how we can go out and get little Native American boys and girls interested in being law enforcement officers in Rapid City, I’m all for it,” he said.
“I want to see this racism stop over here,” said Cynthia Gonzalez, who identified herself as a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. “You guys can be more educated in our culture, as well.”