The Riverton Peace Mission held a public forum on the subject of community violence and safety on April 28 at Wyoming Indian High School. Attending were individuals, teachers and tribal members representing various groups, organizations and programs, including Lander City Councilman Chris Hulme.
Guest speakers included House District 45 Representative Karlee Provenza, House District 33 Representative Andi LeBeau, Rosa Salamanca, Conciliation Specialist with the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service, and Stephen Carpenter, Indigenous Organizer for the Riverton Peace Mission.
Representative Karlee Provenza walked the audience through the story of the November 2018 shooting of Robbie Ramirez. “At the time, we didn’t know all the facts,” she said, “but we did know that there is a culture of not discussing these things or not getting transparency from our local officials in terms of how something like this is handled.”
The Ramirez case caused the community to come together with Provenza and form Albany County for Proper Policing (ACoPP), defined as “a group of concerned Albany County residents demanding transparency, accountability and community oversight of elected officials and law enforcement.”
With a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology and Law, Provenza does research on police misconduct and jury decision-making. ACoPP provided avenues for gathering facts, filing records requests, collecting petition signatures, and holding community forums.
“We opened it up to the community,” Provenza said. “What reforms do you want to see? What are things that you’ve experienced with law enforcement that have bothered you? What is important to you in terms of how our law enforcement serves our community?”
Representative Andi LeBeau related her recent experiences surrounding the death threat made against her during the 2022 Legislative Session, as well as her advocacy and support with the Andy Antelope case.
“Society, in this day and age, is so political,” LeBeau said. “But at the end of the day, we’re all humans. Our customs and our way is to love one another and be respectful; that’s what our elders say. We have enough violence going on as it is.”
Rosa Salamanca said that the Department of Justice’s role is to assist communities in opening communication where there are concerns over discrimination, hate activity, or “encountering barriers in working your way through to accessing public officials or services,” she said.
Salamanca referred to the Riverton Peace Mission’s Marketplace Equity as an example of a group that formed after the Andy Antelope shooting. “Because there were merchants involved and sort of pushing away Native American homeless individuals, the thought was: ‘How can we begin to work with commerce in a way that helps to change the relationship around that?’” Salamanca said.
The Marketplace Equity group started working with the Chamber of Commerce, began talking about training made available to merchants, and started a website where people could submit any experiences or encounters with discrimination in purchasing goods or services. “Conversely, if the merchants had issues as well, there is a website set up for them to access and indicate any difficulties they were having.”
Salamanca and Chesie Lee of the Riverton Peace Mission facilitated a 15-minute session where the attendees were divided into groups and asked to discuss and write down what they felt were key issues and concerns. “What are the next steps you would like to see taken in the community to address community violence and safety issues?”
“This was my ask,” LeBeau said, “to start having conversations about community safety, about how we deal with violence, and what can we do to come up with some solutions to keep our community safe but particularly keep our friends and family safe, going forward, and how we do that together.”