Saturday, September 16, 2006

In Shadow of 70’s Racism, Recent Violence Stirs Rage - Farmington, NM

The memory of 1974 still hangs heavily over this troubled New Mexico town, like a bad spirit drifting down from the sandpaper mesas and scrub-speckled hillsides.

That was the year the bodies of three Navajo men were found in nearby Chokecherry Canyon, burned and bludgeoned. The three white high school students charged in their killings were sent not to prison but to reform school.

The violence and mild sentences incited marches by Navajos through Farmington’s streets and exposed tensions between them and the town’s largely white residents. The United States Commission on Civil Rights eventually investigated and found widespread mistreatment and prejudice against Navajos.

Now, more than three decades later, Navajo leaders here are again calling for federal intervention.

On June 4, the police said, three white men beat a Navajo man, William Blackie, 46, and shouted racial slurs at him after asking him to buy beer for them. The men were charged with kidnapping, robbery and assault, and are being prosecuted under the state hate crimes law, which allows for longer sentences.

Six days later, a white Farmington police officer killed a Navajo man, Clint John, 21, after a struggle in a Wal-Mart parking lot. The police said Mr. John had assaulted his girlfriend and attacked the officer — grabbing his baton and moving aggressively toward him — before the officer shot Mr. John four times. Mr. John had a history of violence, the police said.

Mr. John’s family says he did not have the baton when he was shot and is filing a wrongful death lawsuit against city officials, the Police Department and the officer.