California tribe seeks to counter racist threats

A recent shooting death involving a member of the Bishop Paiute Shoshone Tribe and a non-Indian store clerk has the reservation and surrounding community looking for answers in light of a racist threat made against "half-witted bucks" and Indian girls.

Tensions begin after Wayne Bengochia, 48, allegedly shot and killed clerk David Pettet on January 19. Bengochia is a tribal member; Pettet is white but was once married to an Indian woman and has two children from that marriage.

The incident was not racially motivated but anonymous letters signed by the "KKK" that were distributed on the reservation were. They said that Indian girls, ages 5 to 9, would be "raped and beaten to death, and dismembered" in retaliation.

The tribe responded by holding community meetings to dispel rumors and address fears on and off the reservation. At one meeting, Pettet's children and Bengochia's relatives called for unity. The tribe is also seeking to improve relations with non-Indians and Inyo County.

Get the Story:
Slaying Bridges Racial Divide (The Los Angeles Times 2/26)
Hate crime shocks Paiute reservation (Indian Country Today 2/25)

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