Sunday, July 19, 2009
Dirty Secrets Emerge After 'Indian Rolling'
By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer
Every so often in this business of journalism, you walk into a situation that seems pretty straightforward and so you run down all the usual suspects in your reporting and ask all the logical questions and you think you've gotten the story.
Then you publish it and someone lifts up a corner of the rug you didn't look under and you find all sorts of dirt that was swept under.
Let's go back to Grants today and take another look at the series of beatings there of homeless Native American men that I wrote about late last month.
There was a lot of dirt in that story: Four attacks that resulted in five men being beaten with fists and rocks and a bat, their injuries so severe as to require hospitalization. A racial slur was uttered during one of the attacks.
The Grants Police called the beatings hate crimes and arrested a 22-year-old Hispanic man from Milan, who confessed to being present during one of the attacks.
The mail started to come the day the column ran.
This letter in particular revealed a little insight into how some people in Grants feel about the beating victims: "THEY are always drunk roaming around town... PUBLIC INTOXICATION, PAN HANDLING, and being HOMELESS and a NUISANCE TO OUR COMMUNITY. They have been a problem since I was a little girl and making scenes."
Another letter, also anonymous, shed some light on racial attitudes, at least of one person who lives in Grants: "Nobody likes drunks. No One ... Grants Police could care less about them like the rest of the people in Grants until it's (too) late and something happens to Native Americans and they cry race! If it would've been Hispanics or whites they would not call it a hate crime."
I made a reference in that column to the practice of "Indian rolling," which was brought to light in Farmington in the 1970s after a series of fatal attacks on homeless, drunk Native American men.
That prompted a phone call from Alfred Bennett, a Navajo who is originally from Shiprock and now lives in Bosque Farms. He told me he or friends of his had been jumped in Flagstaff, Phoenix, Page and Gallup as well as Farmington.
Don't think attacks on Native Americans are only happening in Grants, he said. "All the border towns have their dirty little secrets."
The column also brought a phone call from the intensive care unit at University of New Mexico Hospital, where Amos Slim laid unresponsive and attached to a feeding tube.
His daughter, Andrea, wanted me to know about her dad, whose head had been broken open in one of the Grants beatings.
He was a native of Crownpoint and the father of five who had worked as a janitor off and on as he battled an addiction to alcohol that often dumped him onto the streets. Slim, now alert and moved out of the ICU, had been slammed into a wall in a vacant house where he was sleeping.
Finally, there is this interesting wrinkle contained in the court documents now available in the case of Shawn Longoria, the only person charged to date with the attacks, although police are looking for at least three others. A concerned Grants citizen who identified Longoria to police said Longoria had bragged about beating up Native Americans and said he did it because of the recent Traditional Cultural Property distinction given to Mount Taylor, the peak that looms over Grants.
A number of Indian tribes argued for the designation, which gives them a say in decisions about development on public lands on much of the mountain, which they consider sacred. Some locals and those with commercial interests on Mount Taylor argued against it, saying it would tie up ranching and mining development and kill the local economy.
The Navajo Nation was active in the issue and the tribes won a permanent Traditional Cultural Property designation on June 5. The first beating Longoria is charged with happened on June 9. He is said to have told people he was jumping Indians because "they had got Mt. Taylor and now they owed him."
I covered the hearing on the Traditional Cultural Property designation that was held in the stuffy gymnasium of Grants High School on a broiling day last summer. Tempers ran hot, the bleachers were packed and the gym was split — literally — along racial lines. Native Americans and others there to support their cause sat on one side of the gym. Anglos and Hispanics opposed to the designation filled the other side of the gym.
Driving back to Albuquerque, I kept picturing that gym and trying to argue myself into the position that it was just a random seating pattern, nothing more. But I suspected it was really a graphic picture of how racially divided we can be.
The Indian rolling column also brought an e-mail from the University of New Mexico's Jane Hood, an associate professor of sociology who studies and teaches about hate crimes. "No one ever wants to see racism, but it is all around us," she said. "We have a lot of work to do here in New Mexico."
The work begins in Grants this week.
Longoria, facing six counts of aggravated battery, is scheduled to appear before a judge for a preliminary hearing on the charges on Tuesday. And on Thursday, the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission holds a public hearing on race relations in Grants. It's in the City Council Chambers, 600 W. Santa Fe Ave., from noon to 4:30 p.m.
UpFront is a daily front-page opinion column. You can reach Leslie at 823-3914 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Find the original column on the Grants beatings at www.abqjournal.com/upfront.
WHAT: Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, public hearing on race relations in Grants
WHEN: Thursday from noon to 4:30 p.m.
WHERE: Grants City Council Chambers, 600 W. Santa Fe Ave.