August is now the third month that members of the Cortez community will gather in front of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church at 10 a.m. on Saturdays, and proceed down South Elm Street to West Main Street, where they march for peace and equality for all people.
Their signs represent groups that have been marginalized in American society – African Americans, Native Americans and members of the LGBTQ+ community. But the marchers also proudly waved American flags and touted signs that read “Peace is Patriotic” and “Love Will Prevail.”
Reactions from drivers down Main Street were mixed on Saturday. Some honked and gave marchers a thumbs-up. Montezuma County Patriot riders waved from their own trucks covered with American, Confederate and “Trump for President” flags.
A few vehicles separate from the Patriot ride cussed at the marchers, calling them “stupid” and other derogatory terms.
Dawn Robertson, one of the marchers on Saturday, moved to Cortez two months ago from the Boston area to volunteer with children. She said Cortez is a beautiful place, with humble and hardworking people. She said she is happy to be here, and people have been kind to her.
“There is also a pride of place here, which is beautiful,” Robertson said. But there “seems to be a misunderstanding of what the BLM movement is about,” she said.
The Black Lives Matter movement isn’t an assertion that Black people matter more; it argues that they matter just as much, Robertson said.
“If I wanted to save the pandas, I wouldn’t carry an ‘All Animals Matter’ sign,” she said.
For Robertson and other protesters, the deaths of Blacks at the hands of white police officers show racism still exists in American systems like law enforcement.
When police officers in Minnesota killed a Black man, George Floyd, in May, protests sprung up around the world, condemning racism in law enforcement. The white officer had knelt on Floyd’s neck for several minutes while Floyd was handcuffed.
The now former police officer was subsequently charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter on May 29. The other three officers involved were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Cortez police officers waved to marchers and drove up and down the street several times during the march.
Back the Blue and Montezuma County Patriots Tiffany Ghere, manager of JFargo’s Family Dining and Micro Brewery, has been organizing Montezuma County Patriot rides like the one on Saturday since May 16, when she called to reopen the county amid the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ghere also hosts Tip-a-Cop DARE fundraisers at JFargo’s, where law enforcement officers volunteer as servers to earn tips for local drug abuse resistance education. She has done so for the past 10 years.
“I’m very passionate about it,” she said.
Every man in her family served in the military, she said, and many of her friends are police officers.
“Law enforcement is one big family,” Ghere said. “People get into this career because of a desire to help.”
Community reactions to the Montezuma County Patriot rides, in which trucks, bikes and old-fashioned cars ride in a line through the streets with American, Confederate and “Trump for President” flags, are also mixed, Ghere said.
The Dolores Fire District flew their big American flag, but others will yell and cuss at the riders, Ghere said. In some cases, people have tried to run them off the road.
“They yell in front of small kids in front of my business,” she said. “That’s not right.”
When observers flip off trucks displaying an American or Confederate flag, they are “spitting on everything the military has sacrificed so that we can be the great nation we are,” Ghere said.
“They may not like the history, but it is there for us to learn from,” she said.
The ride started in Cortez and continued through Mancos and into Dolores. Businessmen, farmers and retirees from the community participated with the “common purpose of appreciating the cost of our freedom,” Ghere said.
JFargo’s has always “taken a hard stand when it comes to law enforcement appreciation,” Ghere said. She started a project during the COVID-19 pandemic to help feed frontline workers who were taking the biggest risks to care for the community.
“Patriots stand for everything in this nation: our freedom, liberty, military, first responders and frontline workers,” Ghere said. “Every single life matters.”
For her, it is disrespectful for people to write messages outside the police station that urge people who might risk their lives to protect the community to resign.
“I’ve never known a law enforcement officer to take a life unless it was a last resort,” Ghere said. Body camera footage and information about what led to the death of the person is only released later on, after people have protested and formulated opinions, she said.
The Daily Mail, a British publication, obtained footage from the body cameras of the police officers involved in the arrest of Floyd. But the public can view the entire footage by appointment only, according to the Associated Press.
However, a Minnesota judge ruled Friday that the body camera footage must be made publicly available.
Racism in CortezEmely Beira moved to Cortez a couple months ago from Florida to volunteer for a local nonprofit. She said there is less acceptance of the Black Lives Matter movement in Cortez, but there is a “communal agreement to disagree.”
As for the people who yell and cuss at the peace marchers as they drive by, Beira said their “philosophy is different from ours.”
“We let our signs speak for themselves, there is no need to shout back,” Beira said.
Ghere said that person-to-person verbal conflict was quieter Saturday, as no one in the Montezuma County Patriot riders mentioned incidents afterward.
In addition to support for the Black Lives Matter movement, marchers’ signs called for equality for all people.
“White supremacy is still very much alive still,” Beira said.
Brigette Farley has lived in Cortez for years, and has experienced incidents of being treated differently for being Native American. Her daughters also had a difficult time in school when they saw the difference in the way white students and non-white students treated one another.
There was a clear separation between them, Farley said. Teachers see the discrimination and try to address the problem, she said, but “they see it a lot and think that’s just the way things are.”
Farley’s younger brother attended a day care in Cortez 15 years ago, and the employees kept him separate from the other children in a closet, she said.
“This town thinks they are not racist,” Farley said, but she and her mother have been ignored at restaurants and bars until a white man stood up and said something to staff. But if Farley were to stand up for herself, it would be “speaking out of line.”
In a small town like Cortez, it is hard to speak up because “people are going to say something,” Farley said.
But the march is a place for her and her two daughters to speak up and make a small difference, she said, although it can be stressful with negative reactions from the community, such as cussing.
Farley said she and her daughters talk with one another and other people about their experiences to feel better.
“We drink a lot of water, too, and I talk through things in my head,” her daughter, Brianna Alexander, said. “It helps.”
Farley said she encourages the Native community to join in the march in Cortez, though it can be difficult with the curfews in place on the reservations, which help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We do have a strong presence of Natives in this town,” Farley said, and it will help if they walk and share their own experiences with racism.