Mayor Sam Kooiker is making white-tribal relations a big issue in the Rapid City mayoral campaign. In Sunday night’s televised debate with candidate and former police chief Steve Allender, the incumbent asked his challenger if he would knowingly hire an applicant with a history of making racial slurs and jokes (Kooiker’s question and Allender’s response begin at 8:40 in this video).
Kooiker is referring pointedly to accusations leveled in a 2009 lawsuit by Glen Yellow Robe, a twenty-year veteran of the Rapid City police force who said that as chief, Allender fostered racial discrimination and harassment in the Rapid City Police Department:
This case was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Viken, who took notice of discriminatory and racial jokes around the work place by Allender and others, but felt Yellow Robe was a willing participant in the race-based banter.
Allender confirmed the offices of the Rapid City Police Department, during his time as a patrol officer and in a supervisory role, was a “frat house” type of environment. He admits to using work time as a place for practical jokes, public humiliation of officers, and inappropriate relations between a supervisor and subordinate [Richie Richards, “Former Police Chief Runs for Mayor in Rapid City,” Native Sun News via Indianz.com, 2015.04.15].
In Sunday’s debate, Allender did not deny making racially offensive comments. But in response to Mayor Kooiker’s question, he suggested that the mayor himself makes racial slurs and downplayed such racist statements as just another form of human fallibility that wouldn’t stop him from hiring someone:
We hire human beings in these jobs, and I assume the mayor is insinuating that he’s never made such a terrible slur, but I was the subject of a lawsuit twenty—something that happened twenty, twenty-five years ago that was alleged that I either laughed at or told Native American jokes twenty-five years ago. So we hire people with all kinds of things, with DUIs on their record, with theft charges, with all kinds of evidence of misbehavior, and we weigh into that how far apart from that incident until now and make that good hiring decision [Steve Allender, televised mayoral debate, Black Hills Fox, 2015.05.03, timestamp 9:10].
Hmm… I’m not sure that saying, “I’ve bet you’ve never made a racial slur!” is the wisest response. If we look at Yellow Robe’s account of the racial slurs aimed at him and another officer on the Allender police force (cover the kids’ ears, please), Kooiker and most citizens can likely say, “Actually, no, I never have said such awful things, at work or anywhere else”:
“I would be eating lunch and Steve would say, ‘What’s on the menu today, a bowl of guts?’ Or if I was eating a sandwich he would say, ‘What you eating, a slab of lab?’ You know Labrador, a dog,” he said. “Then it rubbed off on the secretaries. I was right out in the squad room and I’d be sitting there eating a sandwich and the secretaries would say, ‘What you having today Glen, a slab of lab?’”
Glen said fellow officer Bruce Evans, who was Jewish, was also subjected to Allenders’ racist remarks.
“There was one incident when Bruce was eating and Allender asked, ‘What you eating today, foreskin kabobs.’ You know Bruce put up with just as much as I did. Allender nicknamed him Heimy (Derogatory term for a Jew),” he said.
“One of Allender’s favorite sayings was ‘Black is beautiful, and brown is grand, but whites the color of the big boss man.’ He would always be quoting that around the squad room,” Glen said. “He’s always been a racist kind of person and even at one point and time I confronted him about it he said, ‘If you think I’m bad you should meet my dad. My dad is the most racist guy in Belle Fourche’” [Ernestine Chasing Hawk, “Cop from Rosebud Endured Years of Discrimination,” Native Sun News via Indianz.com, 2015.05.07].
Yellow Robe alleges not just one racial slur but a pattern of ongoing racist comments fostered among the rest of his staff.
I am supporting Rapid City Mayoral candidate Mr. Steve Allender in the June 2nd election. As a former Native officer serving the fine citizen’s of Rapid City over a decade, it was a honor to work side by side with a dedicated public servant. I believe in Steve’s leadership having received his support and assistance when building the new Flandreau joint City/Tribal Police Department. In December 2012, a female tribal officer feared for her life by an ex-boyfriend who was in Rapid City making threats to phyically harm her during LNI. I called Chief Allender for the Tribal Chief of Police and he told me to fax the Tribal Protection Order and they will locate and serve him. Chief Allender called me back shortly after telling me they served the Tribal court papers and arrested him on warrants. The Tribal Chief and the officer were impressed how he expedited and handled the situation. The female officer was nearly in tears relieved for her children and her safety. I ask my friends, colleagues, who supported and worked with me in Rapid City to stand with me in electing real leadership. The late Rapid City Mayor Art LaCroix is a tribal citizen from Santee and my relative. He would be endorsing Steve Allender [Ken James, Facebook post, 2015.05.08].
One former employee says the candidate for mayor created a racist and hostile work environment with his words. Another says Allender took action to help a tribal officer and another jurisdiction’s city-tribal police force. How do we weigh those items on the record in this job interview?