Minority groups call for more action on paintball attack, racism

Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Leaders of minority groups say state and federal authorities must do more in reaction to a paintball attack on Alaska Natives in downtown Anchorage and other examples of racial injustice.

Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, said at a press conference that her organization has appealed to the U.S. Commission on Human Rights to investigate racism in Alaska in the absence of an appropriate response by other officials.

Kitka said no agency has stepped forward to conduct public hearings on patterns of racism that have left Alaska Natives fearing for their safety.

''This element of fear needs to be taken seriously by the entire state and should not be allowed to just be swept over and viewed as an isolated incidence by youthful offenders,'' Kitka said.

Kitka referred to a Jan. 14 paintball attack on at least a dozen Alaska Natives in downtown Anchorage by three white teen-agers in a car. On Tuesday, Charles Deane Wiseman, now 20, was arraigned on seven counts of misdemeanor assault in connection with the incident. He is charged with videotaping the paintball shooting, encouraging the others and helping to lure victims closer to the car.

The two boys in the car, both 17, face proceedings in juvenile court.

Roy Huhndorf, AFN co-chairman, said the incident brought to the forefront the more serious nature of racism in Alaska.

''This has raised a red flag of soul-searching we should all do,'' Huhndorf said.

He listed other examples of racial disparities. Though Alaska Natives make up 16 percent of the population, they hold just 4 percent of state jobs, be said. Nearly 40 percent of the state's prison population is made up of Alaska Natives, he said.

Denise Morris, president of the Alaska Native Justice Center, noted high rates of sexual assault and homicide against Alaska Native women.

''Alaska Native women are four and a half times more likely to be a homicide victim,'' Morris said, compared to national averages.

Gov. Tony Knowles appointed four cabinet members to review the episode and suggest actions the state might take. But state Rep. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, said their report is not due for 30 days, leaving virtually no time for the Legislature to take action before the session ends.

''The timing is wrong,'' Kookesh said. ''We need to do something as soon as we can.''

The Rev. William Greene, pastor of Eagle River Missionary Baptist Church, and chairman of Anchorage's Minority Community Police Task Force, said problems he saw when he moved to Anchorage 27 years ago remain unresolved.

''The minority community is not satisfied,'' Greene said. ''They feel they're not being heard.''

One problem he hears regularly, he said, is complaints from prisoners who are abused, denied adequate medical treatment and denied proper legal representation.

At the least, state government should pass hate crime legislation that makes a statement that racism is intolerable and introduces the fear factor to people who might otherwise believe it's OK to commit crimes against Alaska Natives, Huhndorf said.

Kitka said it's time for minorities to air their examples of racism, even if a public agency refuses to do so.

''If they don't do it, we'll hold the meetings ourselves,'' she said.

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