Part 2: Filling the Gaps

Katie Roenigk has done it again this Sunday in the Riverton Ranger in her “Part 2” article headlined on the front page, “Through the gaps: Antelope lived hard cycle before shooting.” Thanks, Katie, for helping to educate us.  In so many ways this community failed Andy Antelope before he was shot by a Riverton police officer, someone who knew about at least some of Andy Antelope’s hardships beforehand.

This series of articles gives us a chance to go back before September 21, 2019, when Andy Antelope was outside of the Riverton Walmart eating a hotdog that he had purchased from a veteran’s fundraiser when confronted by the officer who killed him.

Last week we learned in “Part 1” that Andy Antelope had been sexually assaulted only a few days before he was killed and that the Fremont County Sheriff’s office and County Attorney have not released the report of its investigation and that a rape kit had been conducted, although we do not even know whether it was analyzed for evidence. We do know that the officer who killed him had interviewed Andy Antelope about the sexually assault and had referred the matter to the Sheriff’s office for investigation.

This week we learn that Andy Antelope was considered medically or mentally unstable when he was released from the hospital the night before he was killed. We learn that he had been admitted 41 times to the Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston and 13 times to the Wyoming Behavioral Institute in Casper. He had been offered hospice care in January 2019 after being diagnosed with end-stage liver disease, but he had not accepted that option. We learn that alcoholism had taken a great toll on him and that his medical condition was poor in many ways.

When he was released from the state hospital in April 2019, it was known that he was homeless. That put him at high risk for becoming a victim of unprovoked violence. The article lists the multiple bruises at the time of his death, so much more than those caused by a gunshot wound to the head, making it clear that Andy Antelope had been the victim of serious criminal abuse.

We should no longer ignore that the mentally ill and those addicted to alcohol are at risk of being homeless, that people who are homeless are vulnerable to becoming victims of crimes, and that our health care systems are drastically inadequate for addressing the problems.

Moreover, we know that policing practices did not protect Andy Antelope, but instead led to his final death. We also know that policing did not protect an extremely vulnerable person from being criminally abused. We do not know whether an adequate investigation was done to determine who the perpetrators were who sexually assaulted him and caused the multiple bruises and whether they will be held accountable. Neither do we have a system that holds law enforcement accountable.

Please, I urge all of us, do not let his death be viewed as the end of a problem, but to serve as an alarm that this community grossly failed Andy Antelope and that we continue to fail others who are mentally ill, addicted, physically disabled, and victims of crimes, especially if they are tribal people.

So now, what are we going to do about it?

Fear not. Be bold. Build relationships. Be humble. Do justice.