Hundreds of people marched Monday in support of a man who says the letters KKK were carved into his stomach by a surgeon at a South Dakota hospital.
A YouTube video featuring 69-year-old Vern Traversie, a Lakota man who lives on the Cheyenne River Reservation, has gone viral in Native American communities. In it, Traversie shows a photo of his abdomen. Though he himself is blind, Traversie says he was told by others that the scars left after his heart surgery make out the hateful letters, and he is outraged.
The problem is, not everyone sees it. Like those spotting the Madonna in a water stain, Traversie’s advocates are staunch believers. Those who aren’t include police who investigated his allegations and hospital officials.
Rapid City police say they conducted an investigation but found no evidence of a crime. Craig Saunders, a cardiologist at Barnabas Hospital in Newark, N.J., said incision marks can take many different shapes, depending on where the doctor needs to get into the body. Saunders, who did not operate on Traversie, said surgical tape also can leave scarring and lesions depend on the make-up of the person’s body.
The lack of clear letters hasn’t deterred Traversie, his supporters or those who see the scars as just more evidence of continued mistreatment of Native American people.
“Rapid City . . . we understand you have been carving up our people. This is going to end today,” American Indian Movement founder Dennis Banks said to a roaring crowd before leading the supporters on a more than two-mile long march from a Rapid City plaza to the hospital where the surgery happened .
While Traversie’s story spurred the protest, many in attendance referred to broken treaties, unsolved murders and incarceration rates among Native Americans as their reasons for showing up.