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Anchorage Daily News - AFN asks U.S. to look into attacks

AFN asks U.S. to look into attacks
HEARINGS: Violence in Alaska is often racially motivated, leaders say.

By Sheila Toomey
Anchorage Daily News

(Published March 22, 2001)

Dissatisfied with state and local government response to a series of crimes against minority victims, the Alaska Federation of Natives has asked the federal government to intervene.

The University of Alaska Anchorage campus was the site of a march against hate Wednesday. (Bill Roth / Anchorage Daily News)

In response to a request from AFN President Julie Kitka, a representative of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is expected in Anchorage on Monday to consider a request for formal public hearings on the presence and effects of racially motivated violence against Alaska Natives and other minorities.

The purpose of the hearings is to "bring to the fore the more serious nature of racism in Alaska ... the disproportionate violence that is perpetrated on Alaska Natives and other minorities," said Roy Huhndorf, AFN co-chairman.

The request for public hearings where people can relate their experiences with racism was supported by the Rev. William Greene, chairman of the Minority Communities Police Relations Task Force. "I think we have a serious problem," Greene said at a press conference Wednesday at AFN offices on C Street.

The decision to approach the civil rights commission was prompted by a series of rapes and homicides of minority women and exacerbated by a paint ball attack by three Anchorage youths against Natives on downtown streets.

Arrests have been made in the paint ball incident and five rapes. Police have also arrested someone for one of the six homicides. Five slayings remain unsolved.

Greene was particularly angry that 20-year-old Charles Wiseman, charged with seven counts of misdemeanor assault in the paint ball case, was allowed by a judge to go home with his parents after his arraignment instead of spending time in jail pending trial.

"I have yet to hear an apology from the parents for what their children did," Greene said. Had the defendant been a minority, it is unlikely he would have been treated so nicely, Greene said.

Young people pick up their racist attitudes "at the kitchen table," Huhndorf said. People notice that the government condones racism and figure it's all right for them to think and act that way, he said. "It comes from the top."

The public hearings, which Kitka would like to see in Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks and Bethel, would allow commission members to hear for themselves how minorities are treated, how they make up a disproportionate percent of both crime victims and prison inmates, she said.

About 16 percent of Alaskans are Native.

The Anchorage Police Department does not keep crime statistics by race, said spokesman Ron McGee, but Denise Morris, head of the Alaska Native Justice Center, said about 50 percent of rape victims in Anchorage are Native. The figure is based on records of the Sexual Assault Response Team, she said.

The over-representation cited by Kitka also shows up in the state prison system, where Natives and American Indians make up 36 percent of the inmates, said Corrections spokesman Bruce Richards.

Kitka said the AFN would not have approached federal authorities if local and state officials had shown appropriate concern. She appeared unimpressed with a task force announced last week by Gov. Tony Knowles that is composed of Public Safety Commissioner Glenn Godfrey, Health and Social Services Commissioner Karen Perdue, Attorney General Bruce Botelho, and rural affairs adviser Will Mayo.

"The governor is quite concerned about racism in the state," Botelho said. "It is a social evil that is important for us as Alaskans to confront as individuals and at the governmental level."

Botelho said his staff is gathering information about strategies that have been used successfully in other places for the task force's first meeting on Friday. Knowles has instructed them to offer an action plan by April 12, he said.

The governor has no objections to the proposed hearings and will cooperate with the civil rights commission should it choose to get involved, said Knowles spokesman Bob King.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights collects and studies information on discrimination or denials of equal protection of the laws because of race, color, religion, sex, age, disability and national origin. The commission makes findings of fact but has no enforcement authority.

Reporter Sheila Toomey can be reached at or 257-4341.