Nick Estes
North Rapid City is the community most Natives call home.

Racist City, S.D.: Life is Violent, and Often Deadly in Rapid City

Nick Estes

At the entrance to “the heart of all that is” to the Oceti Sakowin—He Sapa (or the Black Hills), Rapid City’s Native population lives in poverty at rates higher than many reservations. According to a 2013 American Community Survey, over 50 percent of the city’s Natives, mostly Lakota, live below the poverty line. This poverty rate is higher than any other urban demographic.

More than poverty, however, afflicts Native residents. Life in Rapid City, South Dakota is violent, and often deadly.

--In 1998 and 1999, the dead bodies of eight homeless men were found in Rapid Creek. Six of whom were Native. Many suspected foul play, but the Rapid City Police Department ruled the deaths of Benjamin Long Wolf, Georg Hatte, Alan Hough, Randelle Two Crow, Loren Two Bulls, Dirk Bartling, Arthur Chamberlain, and Timothy Bull Bear as drowning after drinking heavily.

--In 2009, a carload of 5 white youth drove around Rapid City’s North Side neighborhood shooting Native people on the street with a BB gun, throwing bags of urine on them, and pelting them with rocks and eggs. Two of the white women involved in the incident, Jenna Gitzke and Miranda Sheldon, pleaded guilty to felony, racially motivated hate crimes. Both women were put on a 5-year probation.

--On May 2, 2010, Christopher J. Capps (Lakota), 22, was shot dead by Pennington County Deputy David Olson in Blackhawk, a small community just outside of Rapid City. Capps had allegedly committed assault and was gunned down for allegedly pulling a knife on Olson. Capps was shot five times and no weapon was found on his body, except a piece of driftwood. The shooting was, according S.D. Attorney General Marty Jackley, “justified.” Capps’ parents filed a lawsuit in 2012 against Olson and the county, claiming their son’s civil rights were violated. They allege he was unarmed during the incident and shot once in the back.

--On August 2, 2011, Daniel Tiger (Lakota), 22, was approached by Rapid City Police Officer Tim Doyle for a “routine stop.” Tiger, and four other Native individuals, “appeared to be under the influence of alcohol,” according to S.D. Office of the Attorney General’s report. Officers Nick Armstrong and Ryan McCandless soon arrived on the scene. After failing to obtain his identity, Tiger revealed a .357 caliber revolver and opened fire on the officers killing Armstrong and McCandless and wounding Doyle. Tiger was fatally wounded in an exchange of gunfire. The Office of the Attorney General ruled the attack as “unprovoked” and that Tiger’s death was suicide by cop. The slain officers were memorialized by the city as heroes, while it was revealed in the media that Tiger had a lengthy and violent criminal record.

These incidents highlight a recent history of border town violence in Rapid City. Many public hearings have been held to deal with problems between police and the Native community as well as rampant poverty and what many attribute to racism, earning the city the title “Racist City.”

“I’m tired of it. We’re tired of it,” James Swan, from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe said, as he spoke about Rapid City’s history of disproportionate violence and negative representations of Native people in local media.

RELATED: Border Town, USA: An Ugly Reality Many Natives Call Home


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magnamagus's picture
Submitted by magnamagus on
Native Racism Survey -- Greetings we are conducting an official survey on the treatment of Native Americans within American cities & towns. You can choose to be anonymous if needed. PLEASE, HELP OUT NATIVE AMERICAN PEOPLE BY PARTICIPATING IN THIS OFFICIAL ONLINE SURVEY RESEARCH STUDY. THIS IS AN OFFICIAL SURVEY ON HOW NATIVE AMERICANS, ALASKAN NATIVES, & FIRST NATIONS PEOPLES ARE TREATED IN AMERICAN CITIES & TOWNS, ENTITLED – "Native American Experiences with Discrimination in Urban Areas": Please give us your input. We are also collecting Survey Data on the Treatment of other Racial Groups, as well. To take this survey Cut & Paste this web link into a browser: (A) IF you ARE a member of a Native American tribe please use this Link -- (B) IF you are NOT a member of a Native American tribe please use this link --