In Gillette, hate crime concerns linked to depressed coal market

2013-04-14T10:00:00Z In Gillette, hate crime concerns linked to depressed coal marketBy LAURA HANCOCK Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online

GILLETTE — Last semester, Kiela Garner, a Gillette College freshman and member of the school basketball team from Chicago, was shooting hoops with a friend at the Campbell County Recreation Center when a man asked them to play on a different court.

Garner, who is African-American, and her friend ignored him because they were on the court first. Three more people then asked them to leave.

“They said, ‘We don’t want to play with your kind,’” she said.

Garner and her friend decided to leave. They felt uncomfortable. “We didn’t want to start trouble,” she said.

Garner spoke after a hate-crimes

dialogue Thursday, where a local minister said a depressed coal market — which at local mines has resulted in layoffs, decreased overtime and decreased use of contractors – has likely played into a fear of perceived outsiders and racism in Gillette.

In October, a man was seen distributing Ku Klux Klan literature in a north Gillette neighborhood and in an apartment complex on the west side of town. Neighbors in one neighborhood chased the man off, said Gillette Police Lt. Chuck Deaton.

Even though the act didn’t break federal hate crimes laws, it prompted the Police Department and the Wyoming Association of Churches to host Thursday’s dialogue. Only 17 people attended, which organizers called disappointing. A Denver representative of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service was supposed to attend the meeting in Gillette but could not. The department has cut travel because of the sequester, said Chesie Lee, an attorney and executive director of the Wyoming Association of Churches.

The Rev. Thomas Fiske of Gillette’s Holy Trinity Episcopal Church believes instances of racism can be attributed to fear.

“First and foremost, a fear of economic downturn, a fear of sequester, a fear of the budget and a fear of the future of coal,” he said.

Fiske, who speaks Spanish, said members of Gillette’s Hispanic community have told him that their vehicles have been keyed, mailboxes were vandalized and a rock was thrown through a house window.

“I know that in times of difficulty, either economic difficulty or social difficulty, ethnic tensions will increase,” he said. “For the past six to seven years, I’ve seen it wax and wane. I’ve seen it waning more and more. That does concern me. It should concern all of us.”

“When people are losing their jobs, they tend to believe somebody has to be blamed for this,” said the Rev. Burry Bessee of the United Methodist Church in Gillette. “It’s easy to blame somebody who doesn’t look the same or who doesn’t speak the same.”

Although hate crimes can be against someone’s sexual orientation, religion or gender, Deaton of the Police Department said that recent hate crimes in Gillette were about race.

“In the last five years, seven criminal acts were classified as hate or bias crimes,” he said.

The crimes involved name-calling, he said.

For some crimes, such as murder and assault, the FBI has to be notified. Wyoming lacks hate crime laws, but there are federal hate crimes laws, and the FBI can investigate incidents in states. None of the seven Gillette crimes rose to the level at which the FBI needed to be notified, Deaton said.

But Deaton doesn’t believe all hate crimes are reported in Gillette, because he has spoken to people who have told him about incidents that have happened to family members that were probably hate crimes, he said.

He also believes that some people are afraid of the police and decline to report crimes. The police try to reach out to the community to let them know they want to help.

“I am open to any ideas on how we can gain that trust so that more of these crimes are reported and investigated, and hopefully prosecuted,” Deaton said.

To shed more light on acts of hate in Wyoming, the Casper Star-Tribune on April 3 filed a Freedom of Information Act request. The newspaper wanted to find out how many times and to what Wyoming cities the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service has been dispatched.

Community Relations Service representatives can be called into communities when there are allegations of hate to provide what it calls “conciliation.” They sit down with accusers, alleged suspects, and sometimes leaders of minority communities and local law enforcement to discuss issues. The representatives distribute confidentiality agreements for the parties to sign.

On Friday, the Justice Department declined the Star-Tribune’s request for information, citing a law that states conciliations are confidential. Any Justice Department employee who releases information about conciliations could be fined $1,000 and imprisoned for a year.

Jimmy Simmons, Casper branch president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that he has received complaints of hate crimes in Campbell County in the past.

“And 100 percent of those cases involved a black man dating or married to a white woman,” he said.

Other people allegedly committed acts of hate against the black men because they disapproved of the relationships, Simmons said.

“Hate is on the rise again in this country,” Simmons said. “It really is. We hope to educate as many people as we can.”

Simmons said that while Wyoming has to expel hate, not all Wyomingites are racist. When he was young, a state senator gave him a job when he desperately needed one.

“Because of the type of people that I met along the way, I’d become a millionaire here in Wyoming, with all these odds against me,” he said.

Reach state reporter Laura Hancock at 307-266-0581 or at laura.hancock@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter: @laurahancock.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(16) Comments

  1. Wyoming visitor
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    Wyoming visitor - April 19, 2013 2:41 pm
    I recently visited Wyoming to visit friends and enjoy your beautiful state. I must say that I was shocked and outraged by the racist incident that was reported in this article. I was equally astounded by the article itself that seem to imply racist behavior in Wyoming is simply a a spin-off of the a downturn in the coal market and that racism is not really a problem there. This is nothing but a cop-out a polite way to sweep and ugly incident and possibly a larger problem under the rug.

    Hats off to the Council of Churches of Wyoming for trying to bring people together for dialogue and soul-searching. The fact that fewer than 20 people showed up for the gathering points to a problem of apathy at best, racism at worst.
    Not only were the two young women African Americans but they were also visitors to your state. It reflects very poorly on Wyoming hospitality. If you are morally outraged about the treatment of these two girls, get involved in making a difference. Show up at dialogues. Get to know your neighbors who look or pray differently than you do. Speak out. You know the racists will!
  2. ers
    Report Abuse
    ers - April 15, 2013 2:37 pm
    Why would we tourism? Folks find out how great our state is and then they wanna move here and change our laws and way of life to the way it was where they moved from! Screw that we will turn into another Colorado and who would want that? I hope and pray that it always snows during the summer to keep them out of here!
  3. stacie mcdonald
    Report Abuse
    stacie mcdonald - April 15, 2013 12:36 pm
    Please don't misunderstand me. I absolutely believe this happened, and I am ashamed that anyone in my community behaved this way to anyone. It's wrong. I can imagine it would have been difficult to report.

    I am annoyed that this thread is talking about the evils of government, the media, liberals and conservatives. This is about people, not politics.

  4. dd ric
    Report Abuse
    dd ric - April 15, 2013 12:19 pm
    supercali.my grandfather homesteaded and named Recluse. Don't tell me to go to Gillette as it's been part of my life.I've been around those ranchers and oilfielders and like my grandfather who was an evangelical christian preacher,that's exactly why i am a socialist. you really believe the presence of a lot of churches and "christians" o.k.s the racism that IS out there? ddric
  5. supercalifragilistic
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    supercalifragilistic - April 15, 2013 11:44 am
    Stacie, if I may?
    That is today's media. You never hear of nice things happening through the media in cities and towns across america. But, the focus on perhaps the extreme minority that might actually do these things, thus, painting a community with a "broad brush".
    Ever wonder why circulation with many media outlets are down so low? Perfect illustration when the 1st Amendment is used by reporting sources without the challenge in accuracy.

    I agree, there are wrong-doings in every community in this nation and abroad. But, when the media "writes" it's own facts, instead of investigating those facts? Some used to call this, "investigative reporting", which is becoming a "lost art" to journalism.
    And when you add politics [local or nationally] to the mix (for deceptive purposes) I might add. You paint many good decent folks as what they really are not. And an "unreported" atrocity, in itself for that matter.
  6. stacie mcdonald
    Report Abuse
    stacie mcdonald - April 15, 2013 11:07 am
    (How on earth has this thread become a discussion of coal instead of racism? )

    First and foremost, I am so, so sorry this happened to Kiela. We host some of the Pronghorn players and feel a special connection to the team. We had no idea this happened, and there is NO excuse or explanation for it except ignorance and fear. This is NOT who our community is. Beyond that, this article is a misrepresentation, attempting to draw a line to the economic wavering in coal to racism. There was no indication that this ugly act had anything to do with the energy industry, or with with economics. Racism is steeped in hate, and hate was what this was. Why can't we just say that instead of looking for something arbitrary to blame? Our community supports the Gillette College Pronghorns. Our kids look up to them, and the teams have been excellent about working in the schools and on community projects to strengthen the bond. Our town is not without the issues which exist in every community, but I believe there are *very* few who would not be as disgusted by this as I am.
  7. supercalifragilistic
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    supercalifragilistic - April 15, 2013 9:20 am
    dd ric, the usual classless clown in socialized hope, without a clue, in spite his liberal mantra laced with his usual rhetorical social insight. A clue to you, "go to Gillette" talk to many people of Gillette, then read the paper.
    Gillette is one of the most Christian-minded communities in Wyoming. Unless of course you're atheist, then many in Gillette with their Christian ways will appear as hate, to you.
    Regarding the Wyoming Governor, this is Wyoming's leader being tested. As Wyomingites await his response to federal theft of "Wyoming public lands" revenue. This all being done on the name of Obama's sequester, legalized theft.

    My straight talk verses your straight talk, would get you the political win in a landslide. :)
  8. dd ric
    Report Abuse
    dd ric - April 15, 2013 6:44 am
    And supercali has a motivated hate and superiority so arrogant and imbecilic he doesn't have any understanding of the sequester,and like many of his ilk here in Wyo. think 100% of the land is private property. What his Governor is doing to the public employees in the state is the same as the sequester and no complaints? Go run for office,Super,your misconceptions alone will get you the vote. ddric
  9. dd ric
    Report Abuse
    dd ric - April 15, 2013 6:34 am
    Tylerfrosts' "norm" is as logical as tying racism to the Dow. He could look at red states,especially their legislatures, and get a clearer picture of the "too proud victims" and how those legislatures choose to go after women and the poor to "get even" for the reverse racism tyler claims. ddric
  10. supercalifragilistic
    Report Abuse
    supercalifragilistic - April 15, 2013 5:44 am
    Here's the scenario
    Environmentalists and Obama on one side Working Class America on the other side.
    This is a perfect example why division has grown so rampant lately. Politics and the honesty of America will clash. I see a black man siding with enviros in Oregan and Washington State that are keeping new Coal markets from developing.
    Rocket science, this in not ... unfortunately the media brews hate, where hate does not exist rampantly as reported. News reports [not investigative news] cause of spoon fed liberal reporting from AP and other such vendors of disaster.

    Equals, Wyoming hates homosexuals cause homosexual marriage (in its sickness) has not become law. Therefore, racism must be running rampant cause of the homosexuals not being free to marry and be recognized as husband and wife in Wyoming.
    Therefore, Enviros and Obama need help from the homosexual crisis center of Wyoming. And since Obama and his enviro buddies can't get things easily their way, they recruit a hate crisis in the mix.

    All the while Wyoming is taken for $53million by Obama's sequestration law, "gotta wag, the dog" here somehow.
  11. Rawhide
    Report Abuse
    Rawhide - April 14, 2013 8:25 pm
    I find it hard to believe coal production is up...in the news this week was an article about another coal mine shutting down...

    ...the lack of workers for the mines might be attributed to the fact that Gillette is an oil town also...the oilfield is booming and could be siphoning.workers from the mines...plus...the younger generation is likely turning to higher education and desk jobs...
  12. The Dude Abides
    Report Abuse
    The Dude Abides - April 14, 2013 6:33 pm
    As further evidence of no downturn. one needs to look no further that the Gillette five year plan for schools: three new elementaries, a new jr high, and a new high school. That does not constitute a downturn. FYI, a "downturn" is when you close schools; not when you you plan on building and opening 5 new schools in the next three years. I see no reason why the term "racists" was equated with a "downturn" that's not happening. The racists in the article probably can't find jobs in Gillette because they either can't pass the drug test or because they have a criminal record or because they simply can't read & write well enough to fill out an application.
  13. Tyler Frost
    Report Abuse
    Tyler Frost - April 14, 2013 5:59 pm
    It's unfortunate that minorities have been taught by their leaders to play the victim every chance that they get. There are just as many crimes against whites in majority black areas, more in fact, but whites don't have the luxury of crying racism and are to proud to do so. What's even more pathetic is the fact that's white people accept this double standard as the norm instead of calling the bluff. There will always be tension and strife. Accept it and get on with your lives.
  14. The Dude Abides
    Report Abuse
    The Dude Abides - April 14, 2013 5:53 pm
    The article talks about a downturn in coal production, and that has not happened. Coal production is up, and the only people laid off have been the older high paid employees and the "trouble makers." With no union, that was bound to happen. While rolling into Gillette the other day, I saw a billboard advertising $2500 sign on bonuses for NARM, and Peabody lately has had two job fairs...that is not a "downturn." Racism is racism, and using a fake argument to perpetuate that myth is a sin that no (real) newspaper reporter would ever commit.
  15. balloon boy
    Report Abuse
    balloon boy - April 14, 2013 1:10 pm
    I would love to see the stats on the white hate crimes vs minority race in Wyoming . I have yet to hear of any white victims of hate crime . I wonder if the black panthers have ever committed any hate crimes ?
  16. Uinta
    Report Abuse
    Uinta - April 14, 2013 11:10 am
    Wyoming says it wants tourism. Well, you can write off an entire segment of the country unless you can do something about these racist idiots. Minorities and mixed-race families just won't come.
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