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Old 04-23-2004, 01:03 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Anglo/Navajo relations in Indian Country--The Broken Circle 30 yrs later

The Broken Circle
By Laura Banish/The Daily Times
Apr 22, 2004, 12:33 am

FARMINGTON — Thirty years ago today in the dusty hills of Chokecherry Canyon, a discovery was made that would cause outrage, division and ultimately a civil rights movement.

On Sunday, April 21, 1974, the bodies of two men, Herman Dodge Benally, 34, of Kirtland and John Earl Harvey, 39, of Fruitland were found partially burned and bludgeoned. According to Dan Sullivan, the sheriff at the time, the men’s heads were crushed with large rocks, with one rock weighing as much as 16 pounds. Nearly one week later, two children riding bikes discovered a third body in the hills. It was that of 52-year-old David Ignacio of the Huerfano area. All three men were Navajo.

“It was just so brutal, humanity at its worst,” recalled District Judge Thomas Hynes, who was the District Attorney at the time. “We’ll never know what was in those kids’ minds. You could just see there was a lot of anger. They wanted to torture human beings.”

The murders and subsequent events would become an indelible black eye on the community, an issue that 30 years later, some people would refuse to talk about.

“It was a long time ago, it was bad, but it’s over,” said a longtime resident who asked not to be identified. “It’s like an old wound and if you scrape it, it’s going to get sore again.”

The two decades preceding 1974 brought far-reaching changes to Farmington. Significant discoveries of oil, gas and coal caused explosive growth. In 1955, a special census conducted by the city showed the town had grown 350 percent in less than five years to a population of 12,449.

In the early ’70s, everything happened downtown, which stretched not much farther east than Butler Street. East Main Street, which is now a six-lane thoroughfare, was a dirt road. It hadn’t been too long since the city removed horse hitches from downtown streets where visitors parked their rubber-wheeled wagons and teenagers traveled more than 50 miles to Durango, Colo., for a slice of pizza.

By 1974, the population had nearly doubled with roughly 22,000 living within the city limits. Many of the newcomers were in the oil industry and had moved from Texas or Oklahoma. Some blame the newer “rough necks” for the problems that would come to a head between the city and its Native American neighbors.

“When the racial relations came to a crashing clash, it was more the fault of recent arrivals to the area, reportedly folks from Redneck country, Texas and Oklahoma,” states an excerpt from an unfinished book by Shiprock Chapter President Duane Chili Yazzie. “In the early months of 1974, the uneasy relationship between the Navajo people and the border town of Farmington boiled over.”

Marlo Webb, the Farmington mayor in 1974, recently made similar comments.

“Frankly, I don’t think any of the original local citizens realized the hidden feelings that were held evidently by the Navajo. I don’t think we had a problem until the oil and gas frenzy started,” Webb said. “The oil and gas industry, their values were different than ours, they were not used to living with someone of a different culture. It was when the three men were murdered, it came to a head. That’s when the Native Americans said enough is enough and our voice needs to be heard.”

On May 1, 1974, petitions were filed in court charging three Farmington High School students with the murders. Howard Bender, 16, and Matthew Clark, 15, were charged with three counts of first-degree murder. Delray Ballinger, 16, was charged with one count of murder.

Later it would be said that the three men died from a prank taken too far. Some people who lived in Farmington at that time said “Indian rolling” — or the practice of abusing Navajo street inebriates — occurred repeatedly, mostly at the hands of white teenage males.

“Trust me, it happened. It very much happened,” Farmington High School Class of 1974 graduate Susan Rickman said. “It was a Friday and Saturday night thing that boys got involved in. It was not kept hidden. It didn’t happen every night, but it happened.”

Others say Indian rolling never took place at all or at least was not the sport or right of passage that it has been made out to be over the years.

“Like all lies, the myth that teens in Farmington and Aztec were engaged in the regular assault and robbery of Native Americans during the late ’60s and early ’70s has managed to gain a measure of credibility in the minds of those who were not here during those years,” wrote Barry Digman in a letter to the editor published in The Daily Times in 2003. Recently, he said he heard talk of “Indian rolling” in the hallways at school, but never witnessed any evidence of it.

“I did hear of it, but I never saw it. I think a lot of it was probably locker room talk,” he said, explaining that he wrote the letter in response to a newspaper editorial that suggested the abuse happened frequently. “It indicated it was a way of life, that it was accepted, and it was not. It certainly was not accepted by the decent people of this town then or now.”

Said Webb, “I don’t think race had anything to do with it. Just high school kids rolling drunks, and all the drunks were Navajos. They just happened to be the target ... If there was any anti-Navajo sentiment, it was perpetuated by the drunk population. It was pretty bad. The streets were filled with litter and drunks. It was the major police problem we had then.”

Indian rolling was reportedly not the only problem between the Anglo and Native American community. Native Americans believed they were being discriminated against in businesses and restaurants. One man said that if Navajos wearing native dress walked into an eatery or store they would either not be served or escorted out of the business.

Soon after the murder victims were discovered, the Native American community started holding protest marches through downtown Farmington on Saturday afternoons. The first was May 4, 1974. It was a peaceful march in memory of the slain men. Rena Benally led the march with her son Benjamin who carried a sign that read, “Herman Dodge Benally Sr. Was My Father.” At the end of the parade, Fred Johnson of DNA legal services and later a Council delegate from Shiprock, said prophetically, “I think today the fight has begun.”

During the spring of 1974, Native Americans would march Saturday after Saturday under the association of the Coalition for Navajo Liberation, recently formed by factions of the American Indian Movement, Farmington Inter-Tribal Indian Organization, the University of New Mexico’s Kiva Club and the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The marches quickly became political, drawing reportedly hundreds of Native Americans, in protest of alleged racism and discrimination.

The marches were peaceful, until Saturday, June 8, the day after the three accused juveniles received their sentencing.

On June 7, all three youths charged in the killings were sentenced to terms at the New Mexico Boys School at Springer after Judge Frank Zinn denied a plea by the prosecution to prosecute two of the youths as adults. According to an article in The Daily Times, roughly 50 to 75 people gathered outside of the courthouse, but the hearing was closed to the public, including the victims’ family members. Court officials then and now maintain that the boys received the maximum penalty possible for their ages at that time, but others felt justice was not served.

The next day, the Navajo protesters had been denied a permit to march because of the annual Sheriff’s Posse parade. Members of the Coalition for Navajo Liberation tried to stop the parade in reaction to members of the procession dressed in cavalry uniforms. Coalition for Navajo Liberation members said the cavalry unit from Fort Bliss, Texas, was reminiscent of Kit Carson’s soldiers who forced Navajos to walk 300 miles in the late 1800s. The Long Walk killed 200 people as the result of cold and starvation and caused many others to suffer. The parade erupted into violence; police used tear gas and Farmington Police Officer Jerry Steele was run over by car driven by a protester. Roughly 30 people, mostly Native Americans, were arrested.

Eventually, John Foster Dulles II, of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission was called in. In July of 1975, the commission drafted, “The Farmington Report: A Conflict of Cultures.”

The land the Diné people call “Totah” would never be the same.

“I don’t know how to classify what happened in ’74. It was an awakening, it was a spark that started us together on a better path and opened up ideas that many of us hadn’t thought of or given much thought to before. It was all for the betterment of both cultures,” Webb said. “I think there are lessons to be learned from any event, good or bad, and we would be fools not to learn from what happened and move forward from there.”

Laura Banish:
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Old 04-23-2004, 01:05 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Homeless: ‘Indian rolling’ still takes place today
By Laura Banish/The Daily Times
Apr 23, 2004, 12:07 am

FARMINGTON — The long scar that extends from the right corner of David’s mouth to the back of his neck is an example of the brutality endured by the people who live in the alleys, ravines and other dark corners of Farmington.

Tomas’ missing left eye is another.

Five Navajo men who have lived on and off the street as alcoholics for as many as 20 years allege that teenagers have been “Indian rolling” or attacking homeless people for decades and continue to do so today. David said his scar is the result of being jumped by a group of young white males more than 15 years ago. Two weeks ago, a car ran down Tomas. The homeless men claim they are assaulted with rocks, pellet guns, bottles, eggs, baseball bats and more.

“It happens every week,” Tomas said.

David affirmed, “You don’t know when it’s going to happen or what they’re going to do next.”

Geno, in his 30s and the youngest of the bunch, said it is dangerous for a homeless Navajo to walk the streets at night alone.

“We watch our backs,” he said. “I would like to see them on the streets. One day, one night, and see how long they last. How would they like us beating them up? They think it is a joke, but five fingers you can’t replace. A person, you can’t replace ... I don’t know if they feel bad about what they do. To us it’s not a joke.”

It was recently brought to the attention of Farmington Police that Indian rolling could still be happening.

“We started to hear rumors that the homeless people in downtown were being victimized — high school kids with rocks, like the whole Broken Circle thing,” Farmington Police Chief Michael Burridge Jr. said referring to Rodney Barker’s novel “The Broken Circle” about the 1974 murders of three inebriated Navajo men. “We heard it was occurring and obviously this is something the community is very sensitive to, so we sent out the street crimes task force to see if what we were hearing was reality.”

For more than a month, the task force worked with various local agencies that interact with the homeless population to determine whether the problem existed.

“We tried to break down the barrier so people could report it directly, but we found that it wasn’t the case,” Burridge said. “It turned out homeless people were being assaulted, but they were assaulting each other.”

Jim Clark, executive director of Four Winds Recovery Center, confirmed that much of the violence committed on the streets is among the homeless.

“They’re either fighting simply because they were drinking or they fight because they’re not able to get another drink,” Clark said. “One thing I’ve seen with alcohol and drugs is they breed very bad tempers.”

San Juan County Sheriff Bob Melton said he has not recently been made aware of incidents of Indian rolling.

“I really haven’t. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen in isolated incidents, but nothing like that has been brought to our attention,” Melton said. “The only thing I’ve heard directly is when I was a detective in investigations and I spoke to people who know Bobby Fry really well. They said he did that on a fairly regular basis, take Native Americans out to the bluffs and roll them.”

Fry is on death row for the June 2000 murder of Shiprock resident Betty Lee and serving a life sentence for killing Donald Tsosie in 1998.

Locally, there is a homeless street inebriate population of between 500 and 700 people, according to city officials. Roughly 95 percent are Native American and most are male. They’re on the streets because of broken homes, broken hearts and broken spirits. Somewhere along the line, they got off track and turned to alcohol to ease the pain.

“The majority of people we see here have literally burned all of their bridges,” said Bob Burnside, clinical director of the Totah Behavioral Health Authority. “Alcohol is not allowed on the reservation, which sets up a dynamic of people coming off the rez and drinking. As the disease process of alcoholism is progressing, a shift occurs from being at home on the reservation and driving into town and going home to lengthened stays, until people are staying here and people lose what they have on the reservation.”

Before life on the streets, David installed ceramic tile and flooring. Tomas was a welder and pipe fitter. Tony, whose nickname is “Rave” because of the Rave hair spray he used to drink when alcohol wasn’t available, had a family.

Those days are long gone, but some of the men are trying to get cleaned up. They say it is hard to do in Farmington, where even if they are sober, people yell, “Hey drunk Indians. F------ Indians.”

“They say go home. They have a home, but we don’t,” said a man who asked to be identified as J.R.

The men said it’s hard to get jobs and food stamps without a permanent address and it’s even more difficult to stop drinking.

“It’s harder to stop drinking when you’re homeless. They send you to rehab, but when you’re done, you’re back on the street where all your friends are drinking. Natives come back from treatment, but you have nowhere to go,” J.R. explained.

Many of the 2,000-plus people who go through the Four Winds 72-hour detoxification program each year are back in the center within hours of being released.

“There’s a certain number we see one or two times a year and another number we see two or three times a week. Some get out of here at 7 a.m. and they’ll be back at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. That’s not uncommon,” Clark said.

J.R. and Tomas wish the city would build a halfway house for homeless people who are trying to get back on their feet. A transitional living facility is in the works, according to Totah Behavioral Health and Four Winds authorities.

The men also said that there are two types of people on the street: Those who are homeless in Farmington for weeks, months or years at a time and people who just stay for the weekend. They said those who come and party for the weekend cause trouble for the ones who are homeless long-term.

“They cause problems for us because they are panhandling and fighting. They stay for the week and raise hell, yell at cars like weekend warriors, then they run home,” David said.

The homeless men consider themselves to be easy targets. They claim that when Navajo street people go to the police for help, the officers are unsympathetic or abusive.

J.R. said a Farmington Police officer once told him that he would rather “beat the sh--” out of him than take him to detoxification.

“I would hope that’s not happening. I would hope people of this agency are responsive to the community,” Burridge said. “I would say that the majority of law enforcement here have worked, been brought up or trained in this environment and they are aware of the issues and do not think it’s acceptable to treat races differently.”

Farmington Police Lt. Doug Kennedy said complaints of this nature have not come to his attention, but such behavior violates the department’s Code of Conduct, which is punishable by a range of penalties from a verbal warning to termination. The Courtesy subsection of the code reads, “In the performance of their duties, employees shall not use coarse, violent or insolent language or gestures, and not express any prejudice concerning race, religion, politics, national origin, life style or similar characteristics.”

During his three years in internal investigations, Kennedy recalled only one incident in which a complaint was filed against an officer on behalf of a street inebriate. The patrolman was accused of using excessive force while taking an inebriated man into custody. The complaint was sustained as the result of an internal review of the incident.

Burridge said that many use of force incidents, locally and nationally, are related to taking people who are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs off the street.

“It’s a huge issue that places law enforcement in a peculiar situation. We’re dealing with people who don’t want to be helped, but we have a responsibility for taking care of their safety. We can’t allow them to be unable to care for themselves in public, whether it’s a decision we make, a business owner’s complaint or they fall and hurt themselves. We can’t look at that situation and walk away,” Burridge said. “Maybe it’s not the first time, but the second time they get picked up and realize, ‘I’m going to detox and I don’t want to go,’ then the fight’s on.”

He added that he believes the city has responded well to the issue by providing myriad outlets for the homeless inebriate population to seek help, listing Totah Behavioral Health, Four Winds and The Roof inebriate shelter as examples.

“I think this community has done a lot to help the situation, to get people who want help the help they need. But you can’t help someone who doesn’t want it,” Burridge said. “I think people have a perception that law enforcement is out there to punish society or control society, but we are there to protect society, which sometimes means from themselves.”

David, Tomas, Geno, Tony and J.R., said they are not trying to cause a problem. All they want is respect.

“We’re humans, just like anybody else. We’re having a problem physically and mentally,” J.R. said. “It’s a national epidemic. We have homeless people in big cities, small cities, colored people, native people, people of all nationalities, and (local residents) don’t realize that.”

David said, “There’s always good in somebody.”

Ultimately, the men said the predicament will continue. There will always be a homeless population with problems, addictions and no place to go.

“Some people don’t want to go home. My step-parents are in town, but I’m ashamed of what I’ve been doing, so I don’t go there at all,” Geno said. “Some people come into town and just get stuck here.”
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