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Speaker says NAACP for anyone who feels discriminated against

Mar 1, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

How can the NAACP be relevant in a state like Wyoming, where a majority of residents are white? James Simmons, president of the NAACP branch in Casper, said the answer lies within the question itself.

"Because you are an all-white society is the reason the NAACP is relevant," Simmons said during a recent visit to Central Wyoming College.

Simmons says the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is especially important in less diverse communities like Wyoming, where "prejudice is like carbonless paper."

"You'll never see it until you put some pressure on it, then it'll make an indelible mark," he said.

The NAACP isn't only for people of color, Simmons continued. Anyone who feels they are being discriminated against can seek help through the organization. He spoke about a case he investigated on behalf of a white federal agent who was being "railroaded" out of a job in Casper.

"They wanted to get rid of him," Simmons said. "They wouldn't give him his benefits, his right pay, insurance benefits, anything like that. This went on for years, so he came to us."

Simmons eventually took that case to the White House, and then-President George Bush intervened to address the problem.

Simmons has since been directed to contact the federal authorities whenever he needs extra assistance on an investigation in Wyoming.

"I'm working on a case right now -- 15 white men jumping a black man in Casper last April," Simmons said. "I've been working on this case going on almost two years. Last Monday I received a phone call from the White House (saying) they're going to take this case on."

According to Simmons, an employee from the Attorney General's Office within the U.S. Department of Justice recently told him to send any Wyoming-based hate crime cases to Washington, D.C.

"Because nothing will be done in Wyoming," Simmons said, raising his voice. "Nothing. I've lived here 40 years and I've seen it. Any time you have these kind of racial situations going on, they'll sweep it under the rug."

One audience member asked Simmons for a "blueprint" to use in attacking institutionalized racism among law enforcement officers and within local government agencies. In response, Simmons recommended that students or private citizens could form an NAACP chapter in Riverton or at CWC.

"You have to get organized and trained, and they can be caught," Simmons said. "The only thing I can tell you that works is the methods the NAACP has."

He talked about some of the group's investigations locally, calling his organization the "flashlight" or "spotlight" that highlights incidences of racism.

"We had a Latino man right here in Riverton who was harassed on his job, and it just drove him crazy," Simmons said. "He lost his wife, he lost his job, he lost his home and they labeled him crazy. ... Long story short, we got all of his benefits for him. We got him about $70,000 per year for retirement, and he's living here in Riverton in peace."

He said one American Indian woman sought help when she was unable to collect her support from the government.

"I made one phone call and three days later she had her money," Simmons said. "That's how relevant this organization is."

In 2006, Simmons said he visited the Wind River Indian Reservation and welcomed the Eastern Shoshone Tribe as a member of the NAACP. Afterward, he said, Eastern Shoshone Chairman Ivan Posey "got in a lot of trouble" for joining the group.

"He would never tell me why, but I can damn sure guess why: Because we can show you a way out of that mess," Simmons said. "That's not a reservation ... it's an eternal concentration camp."

The language Simmons uses doesn't always sit well with his audiences, but after his time as an activist he says he has grown accustomed to threats on his life.

"You want to kill me? Hell with you, get in line," he said. "You just get calloused of people wanting to kill you."

Through the NAACP, Simmons said he learned that the only people subjected to worse treatment than black people in this country are white people who want to help black people advance. He said Todd Guenther, the CWC anthropology teacher who invited Simmons to speak Friday, is included in that category.

"Back in 2003 (Guenther) was on the hit list of being a race traitor," Simmons said. "He brings up these types of things and lets you see that this state has sanitized itself. You don't think these things happen, but they do."

Guenther agreed, describing Wyoming as the Equality State only when it comes to white, Republican men.

"This is not just a historical situation from the old days of the frontier," Guenther said. "We have serious racial issues that affect people in Wyoming even today, in modern times."

The NAACP is funded through donations and membership fees.

For more information about the organization, visit naacp.org.

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