Transcript

219:

High Speed Chase
Transcript

Originally aired 08.16.2002

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/219

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Not long ago, Cory was driving home with his girlfriend, Dominique, from his job with the Chicago Transit Authority. He's a painter for them. When somebody spray paints graffiti on a subway stop, he's the guy who paints over it. He's 26. She's 22. So they're driving home.

Cory Simmons

And a truck pulled on the side of me. And a guy was like gesturing. You know, I looked to the side and the guy was like gesturing. With my windows up, I didn't know what he was saying. So by this time, the light turned green and we both went forward. And I'm just looking like, like what?

Ira Glass

They wrote on the window. And from that point, things happened pretty quickly. They guy curses at him and throws a beer can, which actually comes through the window and lands inside spilling beer on Dominique. Cory throws one of those sample sized paint cans back at the guy. And then the other car, a gray SUV starts to follow Cory and Dominique. Cory tries to lose him making turns, driving through a parking lot. Here's Dominique.

Dominique Mapp

I'm looking in my side mirror. And I'm like, they're still behind us. I couldn't believe that they were still behind us after we'd went down a side street and come up through the back of the mall and we're going through the parking lot. And I just couldn't believe that they were still behind us at this point. I'm getting scared, real scared. I'm like, oh my god, Cory, they're still behind us. They're still behind us. And he's like, OK, just calm down, calm down.

Cory Simmons

135th Street, that's when we heard the gun shots. So then I just figured I'd go through the project area. Because I just figured whoever is shooting, they're not going go through the project area. Maybe they'll just turn off or whatever.

So when I turn, I hear some more gun shots. And that's when I hear the back window bust out. I can hear Dominique screaming, and it's like I can just see a flash of light. The bullet had came through the back window.

It seemed like a movie. It was like it was smoke. I could see people running. There was a guy on a motorcycle in front of me. He takes off. I could just see people in the headlights, and I just take off right behind them.

Ira Glass

This is probably as good a place as any to tell you who was chasing them. They were being pursued by five white off-duty police officers from Cook County Sheriff's Office who'd been drinking at a cocktail fundraiser for the sheriff, and then after that at a bar. They were not in uniform.

Lawyers for the officers declined our requests for interviews. But we do have a recording of them made the night of the shootings when they called 911 from their SUV on a cell phone.

(SUBJECT) 911 DISPATCHER Counter emergency TC-14. How may I help you?

Officer Robert Jones

Yeah, I've been on the phone [UNINTELLIGIBLE] with pursuit. I'm an off-duty police officer. Where is everybody at?

Ira Glass

This is officer Robert Jones telling two different 911 dispatchers that he's in pursuit of a vehicle and they should send backup.

Officer Robert Jones

We are at 159th and Kedzie. We're at 159th and Kedzie, 159th and Kedzie.

911 Dispatcher

What kind of car is it?

Officer Robert Jones

159th and Kedzie. We are following a gray Chevy Blazer, gray Chevy Blazer.

Ira Glass

Actually, they're following a tan Ford Explorer. They're in a gray Chevy.

Officer Robert Jones

We are northbound, northbound, northbound Kedzie from 159. Northbound Kedzie from 159.

911 Dispatcher

OK, all right.

Officer Robert Jones

Northbound Kedzie 159. Northbound Kedzie from 159. We are approaching 159. [INTERPOSING VOICES].

911 Dispatcher

OK, sir, sir, sir.

Dominique Mapp

At no point did we know that they were police officers. They could've been anyone.

Cory Simmons

I didn't know what they were after or whatever. It is not like I would have just pulled over and say, OK, why are you following me? In this day and age, why would you pull over? Everything is going on in the world and I'm going to pull over and see why you're following me?

Ira Glass

Although there were five officers in the car following him, on the 911 tape, Officer Jones gets the number wrong a couple times saying there were six officers or seven.

Their side of it is this. They say they were chasing a reckless driver, and that they only started shooting after somebody shot at them. No gun was found in Cory Simmons' car. He denies having a gun.

But listening on the 911 tape, it does seem possible that the officers thought they heard shots, even if none had been fired.

Officer Robert Jones

Yeah. We have seven off-duty police officers in our car. There is one-- oh! Shots fired, shots fired, shots fired. Shots fired. There are shots fired.

911 Dispatcher

Where are you at, sir?

Ira Glass

Also on the tape, you hear the officers in the background laughing and saying boom, boom, boom. And then there's this when they point to an alley in pursuit.

Police Officer

Go around and kill the lights. Kill the lights. They're going to try to block us out of here. [BLEEP]. No, [BLEEP] them. Drive right around. Not them the [BLEEP] off the road. He might have turned right there.

Ira Glass

Some time passes.

Officer Robert Jones

Kill them. Kill them.

911 Dispatcher

Hello?

Officer Robert Jones

We have [BLEEP] guns.

Ira Glass

The chase ended when Cory and Dominique finally spotted a police station and ran inside saying somebody was chasing them trying to kill them. When the officers were brought in, they first denied firing their guns. But of course there were bullet holes in Cory's car. So the police were asked to turn over their guns for ballistic tests to see if they'd been fired. Dominique and Cory said that at first, they refused.

When the police came to trial on charges of attempted murder, aggravated discharge of a firearm, official misconduct, and obstruction of justice, the judge said that they had only been guilty of bad judgment, that there wasn't enough evidence to convict them on any of the charges. Even though the five officers were drinking and using their guns, and firing a gun from a moving vehicle, both of those things in violation of department rules, they weren't even convicted of official misconduct.

Ira Glass

The judge in your case said, if I could sentence these officers to wear red noses for the bozos they are, I would do that. But I can't do that. What did you think of that?

Cory Simmons

It was a stupid thing to say for a judge. I mean, he's supposed to be intelligent, right? It was a stupid thing to say.

Dominique Mapp

A very stupid thing to say.

Cory Simmons

They guy is up for attempted murder and you call him a bozo? A bozo is a clown, he play with kids. This is a grown man shooting at people trying to kill them.

Here I do everything right that they say you're supposed to do, and I'm getting shot at like I'm some type of criminal or something like that. I just think that they were wrong. I can't say it's all cops. I just think that they were wrong. And I think race did have something to do with it. I think if I was white that we wouldn't be sitting here. I don't think that it would have happened if I was white, that they would have been shooting at me or saying that they thought I maybe I was dirty or had a warrant or a gun on me and that's why I didn't want to pull over.

Ira Glass

Cory says he's heard of police brutality, of course, but he never thought something like this could happen to him driving home from work one night. And one of the interesting things about this story is what a non-story it is. Here in Chicago where the whole thing happened, it's made of paper a few times. But there is no big public uproar. It's not the subject of speeches. You don't see politicians on TV backpedaling and prevaricating. It has not made national news at all as far as we can tell. Five cops go drinking and shoot at a middle class black couple, whatever.

Tiffany Ferguson

What always kind of sticks out in my mind when we have these kinds of cases is that there's not the same level of outrage, not only for the public, but for the victims themselves.

Ira Glass

Tiffany Ferguson is one of the lawyers who's going to represent Cory Ferguson and Dominique Mapp in a civil suit against the police.

Tiffany Ferguson

We have all sorts of clients in the office, of course. And when people contact our office, and it's a person who is white who has been victimized, their level of outrage, I can't describe to you. But they feel so violated. How could this have happened to me? I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm following the law. I haven't done anything wrong. And we're talking about something as minor as getting a traffic ticket that they shouldn't have gotten. And they're ready to sue everybody.

When it happens to someone black, and this is my opinion, often times the person feels like, this is terrible. But this is my life. This is kind of the cards I've been dealt. And so that level of outrage is almost like you have to remind the victim that this is insane that you have to deal with this. This is completely violative of your rights.

Ira Glass

WBEZ Chicago, the Public Radio International. It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, High Speed Chase. We bring you not one, no, no, but two, two stories high speed car chases and the law. Actually I guess it's kind of a special law and order edition of our program. You'll hear the crime, and you'll hear how the justice system dealt with the crime. Yes, in the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate and equally important groups, the police to investigate crimes, and public radio reporters who interview them after the fact. These are their stories. Stay with us.

Act One. Cowboys And Indians, Part 1.

Ira Glass

Let's call this Act 2, Cowboys and Indians. In this act, another high speed chase, though the participants in this particular case began running after each other across the plains and deserts of this country long before the invention of automobiles. I'm talking about Native Americans and white people. In South Dakota, after all of these years, the two groups are still not getting along. Things are so bad that some people compare race relations in the state to Mississippi in 1960.

And last fall after a high school girls basketball game, an incident between a group of Native American girls and a group of white boys escalated to the points where shots were fired from a speeding car. What happened in the months that followed did not seem fair to either side. Susan Burton tells the story.

Susan Burton

Basketball is big just about everywhere in South Dakota. It's big and small towns, big on Indian reservations, and there are plenty of parents from both places who never miss a game. On November 1, Lucille Weasel Bear drove five hours from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to a small town called Miller to see her daughter Arlene play in the district finals.

Miller seemed like a typical small town, railroad tracks at one end, a dairy queen at the other. Lucille surveyed the one along main street, parked outside the armory, and went straight in.

Lucille Weasel Bear

The first thing I look for is a good spot up in the bleachers because I do a lot of videotaping. And then so I found me one. And then there were some Indian women that sat by me. But when they sat down, this lady said, did they tell you where to sit when you came in the gym? And the other said, no. And she said, well when I came in, they told me Indians on that side and white people on that side. And I heard that, and I was like, gee, who would say that? They could say Chieftains on that side and Spartans or whatever they call them on that side. But Indians on this side and whatever.

Susan Burton

Tonight the Crow Creek Chieftains were playing the Wessington Springs Spartans. And it was a big game. The winner would have a shot at making state. The loser's season would be over. The trouble began as the Crow Creek players entered the gym. Jessica Squirrel Coat is the team's MVP, the kind of girl who people talk about as if she's famous, an honor student, strikingly pretty with long black hair to her waste.

Jessica Squirrel Coat

And then as we were running out, we came on our side, we came under their hoop right by the Wessington Springs fans' area. And as soon as we went by their area, we heard those war whooping. I looked down. I was like, right now it's dirty in the beginning of the game. How you see it on cartoons, that's how you hear it.

Susan Burton

From the stands, Lucille heard the war whoops too. This happens every so often at basketball games, and it's disturbing.

Lucille Weasel Bear

I noticed way on the left side across the gym floor, a group of non-Indians. There were a group of white kids. And I noticed when our girls came running in how they were war whooping and hollering and dancing right there, right where they were standing at their bleacher turning around. I see that, but I think that well, gee, if they want to live that way, that's them.

[CHEERLEADERS CHEERING]

Susan Burton

On the video of the game, you see the silver flash of pom poms, you see Wessington Springs' best player racing down the court, her blond ponytail flopping behind her. You see Jessica shooting three-pointers. You can't hear any racial remarks. But she and the other Crow Creek players insist they were said.

Near the end of the third quarter, Jessica and the girl with the blond ponytail collided. Together they stumbled into the wall. The other girl fell to the floor and lay very still. It looked like she hit hard and was hurt. A foul was called. The mood in the gym got worse. There was booing.

The blond girl got up. Jessica stepped away from the wall and went to line up next to Lucille's daughter whose nickname is Chub. As Chub and Jessica passed the Wessington Springs fans, Jessica heard somebody yell something at her.

Jessica Squirrel Coat

She's dirty. She's a dirty Indian. She's very dirty. And I just looked and Chubs and she looked at me. She smiled at me. She's like, don't pay attention. Just don't pay attention. I was like, I know, I'm not even trying.

Jenny Squirrel Coat

Then that girl went to the three-throw line.

Susan Burton

This is Jessica's mother, Jenny.

Jenny Squirrel Coat

And she was bent over bouncing the ball, getting ready to do her free throw. And Jessica went up to her. And I think she said something like, are you OK? Because it seemed to settle the atmosphere down. And Jessica pulled back behind the players that were all lines up for the free throw line.

[CHEERLEADERS CHEERING]

Jenny Squirrel Coat

[UNINTELLIGIBLE] Crow Creek has possession and it was like 14 seconds, I don't know. They gave the ball to Jessie. She attempted the shot to go up. And just like that they grabbed it out of her hands. Within seven seconds the girl took it down the court and made a shot at the buzzer. Wessington Springs won.

[CROWD CHEERING]

Jenny Squirrel Coat

Jessie collapsed to the floor and she was crying. Her arms folded underneath her face. She was just sobbing. And I couldn't get her off the floor. I halfway got down and I was holding her.

Susan Burton

Wessington Springs had won the district finals by two points. The Crow Creek girls collapsed exactly where they were when the buzzer sounded, mid-court under the net.

Outside the gym, the night was starry and cool. Parents got into their cars and followed the Crow Creek bus up to the Dairy Queen for dinner. There were 30 or so Native Americans inside. It smells like Indians, a girl from Crow Creek heard someone remark. Jessica ordered a double cheeseburger and strawberry banana smoothie. The Crow Creek players say they kept being served hamburgers that only had bottom buns. They say that when they complained, they were told, are you sure you're not just eating the top bun and bringing it back?

Crow Creek is a boarding school. And Jessica and Arlene had permission to ride back to campus in their friends pickup. There were six girls in the car. They cracked a couple windows to get some air, smoke a cigarette. They drove south on the main street. And a few blocks later they came to a vacant lot. It seemed like a hangout spot. There were cars there, eight or so boys standing outside them.

At this point, accounts differ. The boys say they said nothing. The girls say they could see the boys flipping them off under the streetlights. They say they heard them swearing at them. One girl said she heard a racial epithet. Jessica tells the rest of the story with her uncle, Jake Thompson, the vice-chairman of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, who later called for a federal civil rights investigation into the events surrounding this night.

Jake Thompson

They looked at each other. Did you hear this? Did you hear what I heard? They left and a decision was made to go around the block.

Jessica Squirrel Coat

We were like, just go back. See what they said. Make sure we heard what we hear.

Jake Thompson

So they took a right, went down the block, and came back in front of the same spot to see if this is what they had heard. And they heard it again.

Susan Burton

Jessica sat in the back seat holding her smoothie. She says she heard the boys swear at them again. In reaction, she passed the smoothie to the front of the car.

Jessica Squirrel Coat

Here, throw this at them. I was like, yeah, yes. Throw it at them. Everyone was agreeing with it. So we just kind of went by slowly, she rolled down her window. And then she threw it out. It just went all over.

Susan Burton

The smoothie hit a white car. Two of the boys jumped inside of it and peeled out of the lot. The girls sped down the main street bouncing over the railroad tracks on their way out of town. Now there were two cars from the parking lot chasing them. At times, they were going almost 90 miles an hour.

Then the white car swerved out alongside the girls and one of the boys thrust a shotgun out of the passenger window. They've got a gun, the girls screamed. Go back to town. Go back to Dairy Queen.

Jake Thompson

And what happens next is unbelievable. You just don't hear of these things, even in South Dakota after a basketball game. There was four shotgun blasts shot from the car.

Jessica Squirrel Coat

That's when Chubs said, get down, get down. And that's when we had that back window cracked in. We heard four shots. They sound like old fire crackers.

Susan Burton

The girls were on the floor. They heard the shots but nothing hit the car. Go, go, they screamed to the driver. She raced through Miller running lights. Finally she made it to Dairy Queen. The Crow Creek Chieftains' bus was still there. The parents were still inside.

Jake Thompson

They are beside themselves. They pull up in a parking lot. And that car pulled up. The one who had a shotgun and did the firing pulled up next to them. Five of them exit out and they make it inside scared for their lives.

Susan Burton

This left one girl still stuck in the car.

Jake Thompson

She couldn't get her seat belt unfastened. The two men-- the two boys, rather-- inside the car had the shotgun on their laps. She sees the barrel of the shotgun. It's raised a little bit. And they tell her, go home, leave, you f-ing Indian, you f-ing prairie nigger.

She gets her seat belt unfastened, makes it to the glass doors of the Dairy Queen. And she goes to the bathroom on herself she was so scared.

Jessica Squirrel Coat

I thought I was in shock. I didn't know what to think. The only thought I had was like, oh my god, they have a gun. They went to that extreme to bring a gun into it. [INAUDIBLE PHRASE]. I was just so shocked.

Susan Burton

The two boys deny making any racial remarks. The girl who was stuck in her seat belt went to the restroom and locked herself in. Her aunt and her cousin shut themselves in there with her. Most everyone else watched the windows waiting for the police to arrive.

Jake Thompson

What the people inside did not know is that these boys had went straight to their home, left the shotgun there, then went to the police station and told them that these girls threw some ice cream at their car. So they should look into this.

Susan Burton

Ten minutes after the boys made their vandalism report, the police department got a call from Dairy Queen about the shooting. An officer arrived. And as he began to talk to the girls, the white car returned to the parking lot. People pointed and shouted, do something. Stop those boys. They're the ones that did this.

Jake Thompson

The police officer doesn't know what to think. He turns around, tells the car to stay right there. Don't move. The car leaves.

Susan Burton

The officer set out after the boys. People hovered in the entryway making telephone calls. The news was starting to spread. Some kids back at Crow Creek heard the shooting report on their police scanners. Two women who worked at Dairy Queen took the girls to the police department. They wrote brief statements.

Later, much was made of the fact that they didn't mention the racial slurs in their statements. They only mention the shooting. But the main reason for the omission was that their coach was in a hurry to get them home and the girls weren't instructed on exactly what needed to be in their accounts. The boys were found and questioned, and then the night was over. The girls drove back to school in their pickup and the boys went home with their parents. They had not been arrested. Nobody had been injured. The case would be under investigation.

The people in Miller felt that something bad had happened in their community that night, something that never should have happened. But for them, it was an isolated incident. But on the reservation, from that very first night when the police decided not to arrest the boys, the shooting was seen as symbolic of the way justice operates in South Dakota. The system doesn't take crimes against Indians seriously, they say, and punishes them more harshly than it does whites.

1,500 people live in Miller. On the day I visit, a high wind screams down the main street lifting hundreds of soda cans out of a collection bin.

Jim Jones

Our case load sort of runs the gamut.

Susan Burton

Jim Jones is the Hand County State's Attorney. He was in charge of prosecuting the Crow Creek case.

Jim Jones

We have our DWIs, our underaged consumptions, our burglaries, lots of traffic offenses. The last time we had a shot fired, to my knowledge, in Miller on one of our public streets was probably four or five years ago. A couple guys got in a tangle. I guess it was on East 1st Street. But that's the last time that I can think of that anybody fired a shot in anger on one of our city streets. This is highly unusual.

Susan Burton

Jim Jones is meticulous and focused. He smokes long cigarettes called Liggetts and exhales in tidy rings. He's 48 years old and has lived his entire life in Hand County. He started working on the Crow Creek case the morning after the shooting. He had the handwritten statements the girls had given to the police. He had the ones from the Miller boys. No one had said a thing about racial remarks.

Jim Jones

I think it was the next day, or perhaps two days after November 1. A television station came to town and asked me whether or not our office viewed the events as having been racially motivated. And I said, well based upon what I've got in front of me here, I don't see it as racial in nature.

Susan Burton

Racism isn't something people in Hand County deal with much, because there's basically just one race here. The Chieftain basketball team drove in from the county next door.

Jim Jones

We are, oddly enough, according to the recent census statistics, one of the ten most racially unmixed populations in the nation. The ten most Caucasian counties in the nation include Hand County. And so race relations have not been a problem in this community, at least in 18 years I've been State's Attorney.

Susan Burton

The South Dakota press quickly picked up news of the incident. Some stories implied that people in Miller weren't taking the crime as seriously as they should.

Jim Jones

All of the publicity was extremely negative. The Miller police department, my office, the State's Attorney's Office, the court system, most of those persons or entities that I just mentioned were painted with a broad brush as racist, prejudiced, incompetent, unwilling to see reality. We were all excoriated.

Susan Burton

Jim Jones has a folder of all the articles in front of us on his desk. He starts to flip through them and try to find parts to read. He gets so frustrated that he shuts the folder. He thinks the stories make him look like he didn't know how to handle this case, that he didn't care about getting justice for the Native American girls. He says the press reports made things especially awkward for him with the Crow Creek girls and their families. It's hard enough to cross from one world to another in South Dakota.

Some Indians say that living conditions on the reservations get worse as you drive west in South Dakota. And Pine Ridge is the westernmost reservation in the state. But it's radio station, KINI FM, makes Pine Ridge seem a lot less bleak. It broadcast everything from country songs to pow wow music to the names of the children who are graduating from the Little Womb School's kindergarten class.

Radio Dj

Congratulations to Tristan Apple, Tyler Hairy Bird, Asa Old Horse, Autumn Little White Man, Alan Little White Man, Brandon Little White Man, Tammy Wounded Head, and Phil Zinegot Junior. This message is brought to you by the Little Womb School and KINI FM Radio, the voice of the Lakota nation.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Arlene Weasel Bear

Kind of small. These houses are kind of small. But they work.

Susan Burton

Arlene Weasel Bear not only plays power forward on the Crow Creek basketball team, she's an MVP in golf and wrestles well enough to have gone with the team to Tokyo. She has five sisters, and in the living room, a large collection of awards and photographs adorns the walls. A basketball magic markered with her nickname, Chub, sits on top of the TV.

Being in this room is like standing inside a scrapbook. There are Head Start graduation photos and prom pictures. Then, amidst all the medals, Arlene's mom, Lucille, points out a newspaper clipping.

Arlene Weasel Bear

OK, and this was in the Lakota Journal, like a Native American newspaper. But this is really something. The parents of the Crow Creek Tribal School girls basketball players are wondering if their children need to wear bulletproof vests when venturing off the reservation for sports.

Susan Burton

This was the second time something traumatic happened to Arlene when she left the reservation for a basketball game. The first time was during a tournament several years ago when a white woman said that Arlene was a boy and her team should be disqualified. Someone took Arlene and a couple of her teammates into a stall in the bathroom and checked. Arlene's mother and some other parents took legal action. But the case was thrown out of court.

This year, after the incident in Miller, Arlene and the other girls all had a tough time recovering. The girl who couldn't unbuckle her seat belt in the Dairy Queen parking lot is still so upset that she doesn't want to talk to me on tape. Jessica's mother says that Jessica's personality changed. Jessica was the Crow Creek homecoming queen. She has so many friends that people say she's doing one of seven rights of the Sioux Nation, making relatives. But after Miller, she'd stay in her dorm room, just lie on her bed and listen to her pow wow CDs. She'd pray with her medicine bundle, which she made a couple years ago after she felt a sharp pain in her leg like someone was using bad medicine on her when she came down from making a layup during a basketball game.

After the basketball game in Miller, Arlene went back to the dorms at Crow Creek. But she started calling home more than usual. A couple weeks later, she came for a visit and announced that she didn't want to go back to school and she didn't want to talk about the incident.

Arlene Weasel Bear

I never told nobody my feelings about it. I tried, but I can't. It can't come out.

Susan Burton

When she came home, her dad took her out back and taught her to shoot a gun. He thought it might relieve her anger. But it just gave her flashbacks of hiding on the floor of the car. Arlene left the clothes from the Miller night in the laundry basket for three weeks. Eventually she started wearing them again, but not together, the pants with a different shirt and the shirt with different pants.

At home, Arlene's mom told her, whenever you're ready, come and talk. But Arlene was silent and she refused to leave the house.

Arlene Weasel Bear

I didn't want to see no white people. I just stayed home. My sister asked me to go to movies. But I didn't go with her because I would see white people. I didn't like white people.

Susan Burton

For two weeks Arlene sat on the couch. Maybe she'd quit school. Maybe she'd quit basketball, which seemed to make white people hate you even more. Then one night, she headed out in the car.

Arlene Weasel Bear

I left and I went and sat on a hill back there. And it's like a big old hill. You can see everything, all the houses. You see everything there. And I just sat up there and I was just thinking how we got treated. And I don't know how white people think they should be the only ones on this earth. I thought I'd make everyone feel better if we weren't here, if I wasn't. But then I thought how my family would suffer. So I didn't. I came home.

Lucille Weasel Bear

I think it was about 2:30 in the morning.

Susan Burton

This is Arlene's mom, Lucille.

Lucille Weasel Bear

And I was asleep right here. And she just told me, you know, mom, I'm ready. So I said, let's go. And so we went outside. We stood there and I remember it was really kind of a cold night. And the stars were really bright. And then I just asked her to tell me.

Susan Burton

Arlene and Lucille talked about how she wanted to kill herself, quit school, never wanted to play ball again. And by the morning, Arlene believed that she was stronger than the awful thing that happened. And she was ready to go back to school. Lucille told her she couldn't let that one boy take everything away. She taught her a lesson a lot of Native American mothers teach their children. You can't let racism ruin your life. But it exists. And you have to be practical about it.

Jenny Squirrel Coat

We teach our children, when you go shopping anywhere, just because we're Native American, you do not have anything on you that does not have a receipt.

Susan Burton

Again, Jessica's mother, Jenny.

Jenny Squirrel Coat

I teach my children to always do the best that they can with their abilities. But if there's ever a selection and there's a non-Indian involved, and even though you're the most qualified, chances are you might not get selected just because you're Native. So we build them up and yet you put insecurities in their minds.

Susan Burton

For the Native Americans, this is the context for the shooting. Lucille tells me about a host of racial incidents where there was a comment or a look against her or one of her girls. Some whites in South Dakota believe that Native Americans get everything from the government for free including their houses, which, of course isn't true.

Lucille Weasel Bear

One time I went into the Family Thrift Center in Rapid City. And we went through line. And I said, can I have dry ice for my meat? And she said, there's a fee for it. So I said, oh, OK. I never knew they charged for dry ice. And she said, well you can't expect everything free. So I said, you know, I was going to pay for it. I never knew I was charged for it.

And I kind of looked at my surroundings. And then there was some white people behind me. And I felt really embarrassed. And I started thinking about, you know, I work so hard. I have a job and everything. And I didn't know. And I just went off on her. Are you saying that because I'm Native American because a lot of them do get free things? And I told her that there are some Indians that work. And I'm one of them. I don't appreciate you saying that to me.

Ira Glass

Coming up, white kids in the town of Miller explained how the Indians have it all wrong about the night of the shooting. In a minute, from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Two. Cowboys And Indians, Part 2.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose some theme, bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's program, High Speed Chase. Susan Burton's story about South Dakota continues.

Susan Burton

In Miller, it's hard to get the teenagers to talk about the Crow Creek incident. Most of them are sensitive about the way their town has been portrayed. One girl tells me that because of the Internet, people all over the United States probably think Miller is a racist town. And we're not racist, they tell me. The chief of police says that after the story started appearing in the paper, the teenage witnesses he interviewed would just clam up when he got to the race questions, just not say anything at all.

Because the boys are juveniles, their names haven't been published in the press. And they're not talking to reporters. Their lawyers did not return repeated phone calls. The teenagers in Miller are very protective of them. Many won't say the names. But every teenager in Miller knows why that one boy fired a shotgun.

Nicole

I know the reason that he did it is that he was drunk. And that's not an excuse to shoot a gun or anything. But his car is his baby. And they threw a milkshake right at it. As far as I'm concerned, they were asking for something. They were just asking for a good butt whooping. I mean, if you saw a really sexy race car and you threw a milkshake at it, of course you'd be expecting the owner to be a little bit torked.

Susan Burton

The boy was famous for taking care of his car. It's a Buick sports car with a bra on it. And he paid for it himself. The explanation is related with fervor by all the teenagers. This is honestly how they see it. Even teenagers who are sympathetic to the Crow Creek girls, like Nicole, high school junior.

Nicole

I mean, who wouldn't be scared if a gun was being fired? And the only thing that can be crossed into your mind is that oh my god, I might be shot or I might die. I mean, who wouldn't be scared of that? But then again, I mean, they can't put all the blame on us. Because they were the ones that threw the milkshake on the car and set that boy off. Because that boy is very, I don't know, he likes to take care of his car a lot. He doesn't even like water being thrown on it because he's afraid that the water is leave spots on his window. I mean who wouldn't get mad if a milkshake was just being thrown on the car.

Susan Burton

In a sense, the disagreement over what happened that night is a dispute over where the story begins. And for the teenagers in Miller, the story begins right there. It starts the moment the smoothie smacks down on the car. The teenagers all tell me how the newspapers and the Native Americans started bringing things into it, the war whoops, the racial remarks. They thought this was adding parts to the story that didn't make sense. They just don't see any connection between the racial remarks and the high speed chase. Most of the Miller teenager don't even believe that their crowd made racial remarks that night.

One of the teenagers who does is Jennifer. She's 16 and was working at Dairy Queen the night of the shooting. If anything, she says, the racial comments went both ways.

Jennifer

I wasn't there at the basketball game. But I can't say how it was. But I know, actually, one of my friends did get commented on being racist. I mean, not being racist, but having a white racist term yelled at her. And so she yelled one back. And so I think it was like 50/50.

She was walking by the stands and she got caught, I think, white trash or something like that. And she was mad and angry. Maybe I don't see the term she used. I actually never heard of it until she was telling the story. I'm like, oh.

Susan Burton

What term is it?

Jennifer

It was prairie nigger.

I don't think she feels bad because she got called it first. And if that person doesn't really feel bad then why should she?

Candace

When the reservation teams come down here, there's a lot of tension.

Susan Burton

This is Candace. She's 16 and wore a coat with a faux fur collar. She's the only teenager I talked to who wore thrift store type clothes, like kids in the city wear.

Candace

We've had to have kids get kicked out because of saying Indian, or prairie nigger, and stuff like that. They were raised with it. Their parents taught them. I don't think that you have to say, well, Indians are evil. Don't go near them. They're just taking their money. That's the big thing around here. That's another comment that was made at games that had Indians there. They'd say, oh, you shouldn't even be playing on our damn court because we're paying for your shoes or we're paying for your uniforms.

Susan Burton

Candace has lived in Miller for three years now. But before this, she lived in a lot of other places. Her family moved 20 times before she was five, she says. It was because of her dad. He wasn't in the Army. He was in the New Age Movement.

Candace

He believes he was an alien from outer space come to save humans, us, from the bad aliens who were in cahoots with the government, selling dead bodies for more technology. And he was building spaceships in our garage and going on spaceship meetings and spaceship trips with his friends. And we moved around a lot because I think we were running from the law. I think the most I remember about him was watching Star Trek with him and eating popcorn. That's all I remember.

Susan Burton

Candace likes Miller. She says there are good people here. Not everyone says bad stuff a basketball games. Candace sees the tensions that do come up as part of an ongoing history.

Candace

It's the whole cowboys versus Indians thing, you know? I mean Custer and all that other crap that happened, Wounded Knee. That stuff is hardcore. Cowboys, I mean, I'm talking the works. When they work, they put on those chaps and everything. They go cattle driving. They brand. It's cowboy, cowboy, cowboy. I mean, everybody. The kids too, in school, cowboy boots, big old huge belt buckles that take up half their stomach.

The cowboys in my town, they do not like Indians. They will let you know it. And they don't like black people. They like white people. They even have a problem with me sometimes because I'm a little eccentric for the people around here. I wear weird clothes from the city. And even that will freak them out. It's all about tradition. If you're not the traditional, they don't like it at all.

Susan Burton

If there's a frontier mentality at some South Dakota schools, frontier country is looking more and more like it used to. Native prairie grass is growing over abandoned farmland. There are more buffalo on the planes than anytime since the 1870s. And the population is shrinking, enough so that the region meets the 19th century census bureau definition of frontier, six people or fewer per square mile.

Jennifer Ring

South Dakota, like a lot of this region, is on the white side, getting older.

Susan Burton

Jennifer Ring is the only ACLU staffer for two states, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Jennifer Ring

The folks are leaving the farm. So you have an aging white population and a thinning white population. At the same time, the Native American population it is very young. They have a higher birth rate. And their kids tend much more to stay in the state. And that means that as time goes on, power really is shifting.

Susan Burton

The 2000 census showed some rural counties losing 10% to 20% of their population in a decade while the number of Native Americans in the state grew 23%. It's hard to say exactly what that means since Native Americans have probably been severely undercounted in previous years.

But the changing demographics are dramatic in some communities right near the reservations, border towns. Some of the ACLU's current voting rights cases involve efforts by whites to block the new influence of Native Americans in local elections, like for school boards. But some of the biggest complaints are with the criminal justice system.

In the past few years, there have been a handful of deaths the Native community feels haven't been taken seriously by law enforcement. They feel that racial profiling is rampant, that they're punished more harshly than whites. The U.S. Civil Rights Commission looked into all this a couple years ago. They invited Native Americans and others to come to a Holiday Inn and tell their stories. Dozens showed up.

Jennifer Ring

Not everybody could speak at the hearing. They had people taking testimony off to the side from all these people. And the committee report was absolutely scathing about Native Americans and the South Dakota justice system. The chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission said that this was worse than anything she was seeing in LA or any of those places. There was clear, pervasive, overwhelming lack of faith in the justice department by the community. And that needed to be addressed. Unfortunately, rather than trying to address that seriously, the governor of South Dakota dismissed it.

Susan Burton

Governor William Janklow claimed the hearings weren't a true portrait and commissioned his own study to figure out exactly what was going on. Its release has been delayed.

The problem seems even worse when you consider the fact that according to a 1999 Justice Department study, American Indians are more likely to be the victims of interracial violence than any other race. And more than 60% of the time, the aggressor is a white person. In comparison, blacks are victimized by whites about 12% of the time.

Sheriff Doug Deboer

It would be hard to find anybody in this community that was sympathetic to what they did.

Susan Burton

Sheriff Doug DeBoer from Miller.

Sheriff Doug Deboer

At least I haven't seen any. They were all either quite embarrassed or quite angry about what happened.

Susan Burton

When it came time for the Miller boys to be punished, the people of Miller wanted Crow Creek to know that they took the crime seriously. The State's Attorney, Jim Jones, charged the boys with aggravated assault and petitioned to transfer them to adult court where they could face up to 90 years in prison. But he and the police did not see the crime as part of a larger pattern of interracial violence. Chief of Police, Ernie Stirling ran the investigation.

Ernie Stirling

Maybe for the Native American population similar things have happened elsewhere enough that they feel justified in saying this is the trend. This is the way we get treated when we go somewhere else. Maybe that's the case. I personally don't have any knowledge of that. All I can speak about is here, in Miller, South Dakota where I've worked since 1979, this has never happened before.

Susan Burton

In the end, the police investigation couldn't prove that the two boys in the car were the ones who made racial remarks back on the side of the road or at the game. So like most of the town, State's Attorney Jim Jones concluded that this was not a racially motivated incident.

Jim Jones

I think to the extent that there was anything racially offensive offered by either of those kids at any juncture that night, and I underline the word if, I'm very sorry that that happened. But I think uttering a racially offensive epithets would have been evidence of dumb decision making. I think chasing those girls at high speeds and discharging a weapon out the window was evidence of bad decision making. I don't think the two are related anymore than they are evidence that the decision makers have made a series of bad decisions.

Susan Burton

The judge declined to try the boys as adults, which is what happens under South Dakota law if a teenager seems like he can be rehabilitated in the juvenile system. But for Jessica and Arlene, this decision just seemed to confirm that the crime wasn't being taken seriously. Here's Arlene.

Arlene Weasel Bear

Like so many times they delayed it. I really didn't care of it. They aren't going to get anything done. They didn't care. I thought they were like, oh the Indians, just forget about it. I thought they were thinking that.

Susan Burton

Hearing that the legal system didn't consider this a racially motivated incident just made things worse. Now Jessica figured that the boys would just get probation. She no longer had any confidence that the court system was going to handle things right. She even felt like her own high school was trying to pretend that what happened wasn't so bad. At one point Jessica, the homecoming queen, almost walked out of a boy's basketball game in which Crow Creek and Wessington Springs attempted to make peace.

Jessica Squirrel Coat

Before the boys actually played, they called each student councils onto the floor. And they made truce that hopefully everything will be resolved. And I was just sitting up there in the crowd. I was like, this has been happening to you guys for how many years and you guys are just going to call a truce and everything go? It's always going to be there. There's nothing you guys can say or do to say it's going to be OK. It's always going to be there.

Susan Burton

The Hand County Courthouse is the grandest building in Miller. Inside, there are marble columns and a stained glass dome. As you climb the stairs, it's like you're entering another time when people were making up the rules of the country.

On the morning of the boys hearing, every single person in the courtroom is white. There are other cases first, mostly drinking offenses. A 19-year-old in Levi's refuses to say where he got the beer and gets ten days in jail. The court reporter blows her bangs off her face. Jim Jones rises to respond to the judge's queries.

And then suddenly the sheriff pushes open the door and Jessica, and Arlene, and their mothers, and several others walk into the room. The attention shifts. People edge around trying to see what the Native Americans in the courtroom are doing here. And then it just starts into motion, a regular case on the list. This will not be a trial. The boys have entered a guilty plea and the judge will just give them their sentences. A boy with spiky hair appears and the proceedings begin.

His lawyers spends a lot of time talking about the car. The boy is very protective of it and has been upset when it's been paintballed in the past. The lawyer says that the boy has never been in trouble before. The boy stands and mumbles, I would just like to tell the court and everybody involved in this incident that I'm really sorry and I regret it every day of my life. That's it.

Then Judge Jon Erickson begins. In every lie, there's an element of truth, he says. The truth is you went around the girls. But it wasn't to avoid smashing into them as you said in your statement, but rather to cut them off. The truth is you went to the police station. But the impression that you're trying to give here today, that you were going to be truthful about this, is not true. I don't see any remorse. I don't see that you're a bit contrite.

Judge Erickson named more parts of the boy's story he doesn't believe. He chastises him for his behavior. And he continues, if I read the news reports correctly, there are some who say the only way to be fair in this case, the only way to do justice, is to punish you harshly. If I thought for one moment that by treating you harshly I could cure racism in the state, I would probably do so. If I thought for one moment that could cure the years of distrust between Indians and whites in this country, I would do so. But fortunately for you, I can't do that. Instead, I'm required to make a reasoned judgment.

In South Dakota, a judge can either give juveniles probation or send them to juvenile detention. The judge chose the more severe option for both boys, the Department of Corrections.

Just before the proceedings ended, Jim Jones announced that there were victims and the families present and asked if any of them would like to approach the bench.

Lucille Weasel Bear

I raised my hand and I'm like, do I stay here? Do I sit here and talk or what do I do?

Susan Burton

Here's Arlene's mother, Lucille.

Lucille Weasel Bear

I didn't want to do something wrong where the judge might make a comment to me or anything. Then he just told me to approach the bench. You mean go up there? But I sat down. And I looked and I saw all the people in the courtroom. I looked at Arlene and then I thought, OK. Well, I'm going to have to bring everybody up. And then that's what I did.

Susan Burton

Lucille sat in the witness chair swiveling a little from side to side. She focused on one of the boys who'd been in juvenile corrections before. She told him that she didn't feel sorry for him, that she didn't think that he felt sorry for the girls. She said that he'd had all these chances to better himself, to improve. She said, he should have been obedient to his parents. Lucille looked at the boy's mother.

Lucille Weasel Bear

She kind of had her head down. But she was looking at me on the side of her eye. In our culture we have minimum eye contact. If we stare or tend to look at someone for a period of time, then it becomes disrespectful. And I know that like in the white man's world, eye contact is important. It shows interest. And that day I went in there on his terms. So I was going to stare. Because I don't have respect for them anyway.

Jim Jones

She was just brutally honest.

Susan Burton

Again, the State's Attorney, Jim Jones.

Jim Jones

She turned to these kids and she says, look what kind of an impact you have had on the lives of these six girls. How can you look at yourself in the mirror and think that you have not wreaked havoc with these girls' personal lives. If you find yourself in a cell, I want you to spend some time thinking about the impact your idiotic decision that night has had on the lives of others.

Lucille Weasel Bear

I kind of thought about all the things that happened, even to me, the racism and how we're mistreated. And sometimes the justice system or the non-Indians tend to say, oh, they exaggerate. But it's not exaggerated.

Susan Burton

Arlene was crying when her mother spoke.

Arlene Weasel Bear

I didn't think she was going to go off like that. I was pretty happy because my mom was the only one that got up and talked. It made me feel cool that she really cares.

Susan Burton

The girls in the families felt like the hearing was a success, that this time the justice system took a crime as seriously as they did. They liked the things the judge said when he scolded the boys. And they were glad that the people in the room heard the Indian point of view from Lucille. They told me about so many cases where things never seemed to get resolved fairly and bad feelings lingered. But this was settled. They could put it behind them.

After the hearing, Lucille hugged her daughters.

Lucille Weasel Bear

They're descendants of Sitting Bull. And Sitting Bull was really a great chief. And one of the things I always keep in mind from some of the things that he said, I can't really recall the whole thing, but he talks about how if the white man leaves something good, pick it and use it. And if he leaves something bad, then leave it where it is. So I kind of like that. I kind of liked that little statement that Sitting Bull made. And I think I left that bad thing in the courtroom.

Susan Burton

The people on the reservation and the people in Miller never came to agree on where the story began. But for Lucille and her daughters, here's where it ended: They got in their car and drove to Crow Creek. They went to the casino, and ate cheese balls, and folded Arlene's graduation announcements. The girls joked with the waiter. They didn't even talk about court.

Ira Glass

Susan Burton lives in New York.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Jonathan Goldstein and myself with Alex Blumberg, Wendy Dorr, and Starlee Kine, senior producer Julie Snyder, contributing editor Susan Burton, Rebecca [? Carroll ?], Jack [? Hitt, ?] Margie [UNINTELLIGIBLE], Alix Spiegel, Nancy Updike, and Consigliere Sarah Vowell. Elizabeth Meister runs our website. Production help from Todd Bachmann and Chris [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. Susan Burton's story was produced with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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