When I read the New York Times headline: “South Dakota Tribes Speak Against ‘Riot-Boosting’ Penalties” (Feb. 12) my native Dakotan ears perked up. Gov. Kristi Noem argues that the proposed revised “riot-boosting” law is “designed to protect people’s rights to protest peacefully” and that it has nothing to do with demonstrations by South Dakota’s Native Americans against the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline across their lands.
Under terms of the proposed “Riot-Boosting” law, gatherings of three or more people judged to be “incitement to riot” would be illegal and participants would be fined. Does the Gov. have available a select panel of theologians, philosophers and legislators to preemptively determine the intent of the three or more who gather to protest or support or celebrate an action?
This rhetoric to intimidate and penalize citizens who gather to express their beliefs evokes echoes of another painful period in South Dakota history when the U.S. Army fired on Ghost Dancers of Wounded Knee in 1890 and killed 150 Native Americans.
There are many chapters in history when governments tried to suppress citizen gatherings to protest or demonstrate for a cause. King George III banned New England town meetings that weren’t approved by the royal governor. The smash hit “Hamilton” captures the moment:
“You’ll remember that I served you well
Oceans rise, empires fall
We have seen each other through it all
And when push comes to shove,
I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love.”
One of the most consequential applications of “a riot boosting law” happened in Dublin, Ireland in 1843. The gathering planned by Daniel O’Connell to agitate for Repeal of the Act of Union between Britain and Ireland [which dissolved Ireland’s parliament] was banned by Robert Peel, Prime Minister of Britain, the architect of the punitive policy for Irish famine relief.
Derrick Marks of the Yankton Sioux Tribe cuts through the governor’s circuitous rhetoric with his question: “It could be me raising my fist. Is that considered riot boosting? Is that considered violence?” Daniel O’Connell would applaud the question.