Farm in Peace Rally Feb 17, 2023 at the Capitol building in Denver. Photo credit: Kaizen Food Rescue Instagram page

Ten toes down. Black Colorado ranchers refuse to be silenced, call for C.A.R.E.N. law

5 mins read

Targeted, racialized violence has now furthered Courtney and Nicole Mallery’s fight from rural Colorado to the steps of state legislature.

Black Colorado ranchers Courtney and Nicole Mallery led a protest in Denver to call more attention to their ordeal with the predominantly-white town of Yoder, Colorado in El Paso County. The Mallerys are at the center of a growing racial quandary that has caught global attention about the plight of farming while Black in the U.S. They claim their ranch operation has been severely stunted from ongoing acts of aggression by local whites in Yoder.

“We have been fighting in silence because we are victims, but as people know, they shame victims into feeling shamed,” Mrs. Mallery said at last Friday’s gathering.

A number of persons gathered to participate in the “Farm in Peace Live in Peace” rally in support of the Mallerys’ fight to keep Freedom Acres Ranch. They marched from the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial at City Park to the Capitol building in efforts to push state legislation that makes it a criminal offense to file fraudulent, racially motivated police complaints. Known as the Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies (C.A.R.E.N.), the proposed law is in response to the persistent documentation of false criminal claims against persons of color—more so Black people—by whites, and especially white women.

“This is important legislation that is needed to fight the terror that is being inflicted on our animals and family members,” stated a post on The Mallerys’ Twitter account. As well, the Black Democratic legislature encouraged the public to offer support to the Mallerys’ cause.

According to them, an El Paso County Sheriff’s (EPSO) officer, Sergeant Emery “Ray” Gerhart, has been “complicit” in the continued actions against the couple that began with a white neighbor named Teresa Clark.

“It all started with a ‘Karen’,” referenced Mr. Mallery of Clark, his neighbor who shares a public-access passageway to their properties.

Both parties have called the police on each other and filed multiple complaints including restraining orders, but it started with one carried out by Clark. Since the Mallerys’ issue gained noticeable visibility in the press, Clark expressed that she is in fear of her life, along with the safety of her house and animals via a written statement to Colorado Public Radio. 

Currently, Clark faces charges of violating the restraining order the Mallerys filed against her, while Courtney and Nicole Mallery face felony stalking charges for their alleged encounters with Clark. There are several other charges against the Black ranchers, such as petty theft and tampering with public utilities which is a Class 2 misdemeanor.

While it seems as if this is a continually contentious conflict that erupted, Vern Howard cautioned, “We’re not dealing with a land dispute, let’s not make that mistake.” 

Dr. Howard, who is chairman of the Dr. MLK Jr. Colorado Holiday Commission, furthered. “We’re talking about a family who has been tortured; who has been victimized; who [white locals] have actually talked about lynching . . . in 2023. And for some reason, we can’t get the sheriff’s department to deem that necessary for them to research.”

In an interview with Ark Republic, Mr. Mallery alleged that his first hostile encounter by a neighbor was with Clark shortly after he and his wife moved to the ranch in August 2020. While he was repairing the fence to the once abandoned property, Clark came onto his land uninvited. She questioned who he was, and why he was there. Accompanied by his dogs, at some point Clark told him that “they shoot dogs around here.”

At least one of the Mallerys’ Pyrenees was poisoned after giving birth, alleged Mr. Mallery. EPSO’s Communications Director, Sgt. Deborah Mynatt, detailed to Ark Republic that there was no record of a complaint concerning any murdered animals. Yet, at a February 14, 2023 ESPO press conference, it was stated that Mr. Mallery did tell an officer that his dog was poisoned. 

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EPSO has repeatedly denied that they have shown partiality in these matters. In a release, they mentioned a commitment to “ensuring [that] Constitutional and civil rights are upheld regardless [of] race, color, national origin, or any other legally protected characteristic.” 

The sheriff’s office told Ark Republic that they have policies in place to address police behavior. Namely, having held anti-bias police training in the past, along with hiring a third party to facilitate town halls with the community. As well, Sgt. Mynatt explained that Yoder’s law enforcement has been directly invited to some of their activities, though events are open to the 1,000-plus officers in the area.

While Sgt. Mynatt claims they have seen “positive response[s]” from their community-held events; it is unclear exactly where this happens in the expansive county landscape, and how the anti-bias training impacts policing; especially, in a rural community such as Yoder. 

In many cases, rural America is largely a volatile space for Blacks when it comes to safety. Where the Mallerys live in the county, Yoder is described as a “sundown town,” by Portia Prescott, the president of the Rocky Mountain NAACP that consists of Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming.

A sundown town is the Segregation-era term used to describe “whites-only” towns or city districts that restricted Black people’s movement, or even entry, while there. So much so, that if you stayed beyond daylight, you would be met with violence by its residents and law enforcement. As a form of precaution, African Americans were forced to know where these places existed, and subsequently, what areas were safe spaces for them to travel.

To mitigate the situation involving the Mallerys, the NAACP started looking into the matter. “El Paso County Sheriff’s [office] has been horrible, awful, shifty, [and] shady,” Prescott expressed to Ark Republic.

She said they had a meeting with them to discuss the issue and even the proposed bill. Initially, the department agreed to cooperate, but “now have become a brick wall,” and are not responding, detailed Prescott.

Like many others, Prescott contacted multiple state agencies, including Gov. Jarod Polis’ office. On February 15, they told her “they were looking into it.” A statement from the governor’s press secretary, Conor Hill, to Ark Republic offered the following:

“The state is aware of the situation. The Governor’s office has been in touch with constituents and local leaders around this ongoing and concerning issue that has created challenges within the community.”

Gov. Jarod’s timing in his response has caused concern. Weeks after concerned persons flooded his office with phone calls, emails and social media correspondences, there still is little indication of what steps would be taken to remedy the multiple issues alleged by the Mallerys. It is “a good sign, not the best sign, but a good sign,” said Prescott about the governor responding to her numerous efforts to talk about the matter.

The lull in local press coverage is one of the main reasons behind the “Farm in Peace Live in Peace” march and demonstration. The protest came about because it was the Mallerys’ “only way of hope to get their story [heard] . . . and they were never going to get justice through [the] El Paso County Sheriff’s,” Prescott explained to Ark Republic.

The NAACP has retained counsel for Mr. Mallery who had his hearing on February 14, the same day EPSO held a major press conference about the incident. Mrs. Mallery’s hearing was on February 16. The longstanding civil rights organization also said they are working to help the Mallerys’ replace a cow that was found dead from probable poisoning last week.

“El Paso County Sheriffs thought that two people . . . did not matter. That we didn’t mean anything to anybody. Let me tell you something . . . we’re going to be two people that they never forget,” affirmed Mrs. Mallery at the rally.

This is part of the series “Get Out” which initially ran as a two-story narration about Black ranchers, Courtney and Nicole Mallery’s experiences in a predominantly white town in El Paso County, Colorado.

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