From Vietnam Veterans Against the War,

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Wounded Knee Bust


Reprinted from the May 1973 issue of Winter Soldier.

Since the take-over at Wounded Knee began over a month and a half ago, the government has been using every devious method possible in trying to destroy any support for the people inside. They are attempting to distort and bury the reasons which led to the take-over in the first place.

In the general vicinity of Wounded Knee itself, the feds have been able to force many people out of the area by arresting them, keeping them in jail for a few days, and then letting them out on bond with the stipulation that they leave the area immediately upon release. Over 175 arrests have been made so far, most of which are for "interfering and impeding federal law enforcement officers in the performance of their official duties during a civil disorder." Anyone looking like a supporter has been subject to arrest on these charges.

Bart Savage and Bill Branson of the VVAW National Collective were arrested on these same charges on March 13th at a federal roadblock while attempting to bring medical supplies to Wounded Knee. What made arrests on these charges so illegal is that the "official duties" of the feds were to stop and search every car attempting entry into Wounded Knee. By having to perform their "official duties" of stopping and searching the car, they were "interfered and impeded with" by Bart and Bill from carrying out their "official duties".

Sounds crazy? Bart and Bill thought so too, until they were taken to the jail at Pine Ridge and found that everyone else there had been arrested on the same charges and under very similar circumstances. This pattern is so widespread and so illegal that it is very clear that the only purpose of it is to "put people on ice" for a while and then remove them from the area, thus breaking up support from the outside.

Everyone arrested is taken to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) jail in Pine Ridge for a couple of days to await transportation to the county jail in Rapid City for arraignment and bond hearings. The Pine Ridge Jail is a throwback to medieval times. People are stuffed into cells like cattle and sanitary facilities are almost non-existent. People are not formally charged until reaching Rapid City nor are they allowed phone calls until the second or third day of incarceration, both of which are in direct violation of basic constitutional rights.

The BIA police are extremely resentful of the feds for having to keep federal prisoners in their jail. They take out their anger on the prisoners. But because of their unity and their strength, the "POW's" can stand up to, and resist, the oppressive conditions of the jail.

On Friday, March 16th, Bill and Bart were transported, along with four Indian brothers, to Rapid City. The arraignments and bond hearings were held in the afternoon with everyone having bail set at $5,000 each except for Bill and Bart, who, for some unknown reason, had bail set at $50,000 each. Re-hearings for the bond were then scheduled for the following Monday.

The cells in Rapid City were even more crowded than in Pine Ridge. People were packed in nine to a cell. As more POWs were brought in, the unity and spirit which was so prevalent in Pine Ridge became stronger and stronger. The jail became organized! Communication was established between floors via air vents. Demands for better sanitary conditions were agreed upon and chants were organized throughout the jail for these demands.

Never having prisoners before who had the "nerve" to voice demands on them, the jailers at first ignored the chanting, assured that it would soon die out. But it continued; over and over again. Finally realizing the determination of the prisoners, the jailers had no choice but to give in to their demands. Many fingers make a big fist.

Monday morning brought the second round of bond hearings. As the jail in Pine Ridge was still full, and the county jail was forced to transfer many people to Deadwood because it was so crowded, the magistrate had to start letting people out on personal recognizance on, of course, the condition that they leave the area immediately. Bart and Bill, who three days before had bail set at the incredibly high figure of $50,000 each, were among those released.

But the story does not end here. The systematic and illegal arrests continue. People are still being held in dungeon-like jails. Their rights are still being abused. And the reasoning and objectives behind it all are still the same; put people away for a while, try to make them afraid to continue their support, and then get them out of the area. But they are forgetting something. Putting many different people from many different backgrounds together under common oppressive conditions is creating bonds that will never be broken. The people are learning, both from each other and their experience in jail. They are learning that the poor and oppressed people of this country have many things in common; impoverished living conditions, lack of opportunities, lack of basic human rights such as health and education, AND, the very same oppressor! They are learning the meaning of unity. They are learning the power of that unity and what it can do. And finally, they know that they are right and that their cause is just!

Bart Savage and Bill Branson, 1973.

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