Riverton Focuses On Substance Five Years After Racially Motivated Shooting
In 2015 two Northern Arapaho men were shot at the Center of Hope detox center in Riverton Wyoming. They were shot by a white city park employee with a 40-cal. handgun while they slept. The confessed shooter said he was targeting homeless people who he perceived as a nuisance to the city's public spaces. The thing is neither man was homeless. This was a racially motivated shooting, but change has been slow.
In late July of 2020, a procession of marchers gathers to walk down main street Riverton.
The group is led by Ron Howard, a Northern Arapaho tribal member. He's been organizing the Peace March since the detox shooting since 5 years ago. The march takes on new meaning with the police shooting of another NA member Anderson Antelope last year outside of Walmart. Lately, there have been nationwide protests after the murder of George Floyd. Howard is waiting for the day where the march will be more like a celebration.
"It's frustrating that we have to have a march to honor people that died," Howard said after the march ended at City Park, "Whereas I would like to continue doing a march and celebrate the goal that we had in mind which was peace in our community."
Tribal officials at the time said the shooting was clearly racially motivated and wanted the shooting to be tried as a hate crime.
Michael Broadhead was the Riverton chief of police in 2015. At the time he expressed great concern about homelessness and public intoxication. Today, he remembers when he got to Riverton in 2010 he saw a public health crisis.
"It was pretty clear that for the last 50 years they had been trying to arrest their way out of that problem." Broadhead was working on the homelessness issue before the 2015 shooting but doubled down after, "And I said at what point do you think that's going to start working because it's clearly not working."
Broadhead also said that at that point the Riverton Police Department was arresting 2,000 people a year for public intoxication. But by the time he left in 2016, the last full year he was with RPD, the number was cut by over half. He cites social programs such as the local detox center and the halfway house Eagles Hope as for reasons those numbers went down.
"All of those things were really effective in the big picture right. And none of them are really police solutions." Broadhead said after saying racism is apart of the conversation surrounding homelessness and substance abuse.
The other thing Broadhead did was appoint a community relations Ombudsman named Jane Juve.
For 15 months she taught classes on housing discrimination, events planning, and established a think tank to tackle cultural differences evident in Riverton that had gone unaddressed.
"Many of these ideas dealt with cultural exchange events, working to increase Native American representation on school boards, city council etc., other governmental changes or issues that could effectuate change."
But the position was eliminated by the city for funding reasons.
Juve says the good ideas never had enough time to develop.
And things changed. While previous solutions focused on discrimination a newly formed Solutions Committee re-focused their attention on substance after the group disbanded. The Chairman is Lance Goede.
"It's one of the official efforts of the city council to address the issues of substance abuse." said after adding that he had been chair for a year.
The committee in 2018 tried to toughen public intoxication laws which included a $750 fine for businesses that sold alcohol to the "habitually intoxicated". But the city council defeated that proposal.
Goede says that the impetus of the Solutions Committee is looking at ordinances around alcohol. But they are also trying to branch out.
Goede, like Broadhead, mentioned racism being a factor in Riverton but they were appointed to focus on substance abuse specifically. "Our mission is focusing on substance abuse but covers so many different things. We've been dabbling in things like homelessness and transportation."
For those who have followed the issue for the last five years, the committee should be spending more time focused on homelessness and racial attitudes which were the motivation behind the shooting.
Riverton Police Chief Eric Murphy says that the RPD did not enact any new policies after the shootings and thinks the police department is doing a good job with racial sensitivity training.
Murphy said that he is unsure what else to do within his department, "I feel like we do what we can without forcing it down people's throats. It's hard to write a policy on like, you're going to treat everyone with respect. Our policy says that but how do you really dictate that in a policy?"
Ron Howard and the Peace March Mission have put together talking circles since the 2015 shootings and the police shooting of Anderson Antelope last year. Howard hopes that the city will take more notice of racial inequalities in Riverton.
"People still talk about Stallone Trosper and Sonny Goggles. And now with Anderson Antelope. You know George Floyd, all these other people that are dying needlessly. It's frustrating that we have to march to honor people that died in that way."