I am married to a Chicano man, and we live in a sundown town.
Last year my Chicano husband was arrested and charged with several crimes for his actions as the local high school principal to help a student experiencing a mental health crisis (1).
**In addition, it is important to note that his actions that day are actually considered best practice in the field of mental health of which I am an expert** (2)
The day after my husband’s arrest, I found myself sitting in court with him. As I looked around the courtroom, I noticed something interesting, the room was full of predominantly BIPOC folks charged with mostly traffic violations. I wondered how it is in a community with a demographic so predominantly white there were so few white folks in the courtroom that day with similar charges. Surely us white folks engage in traffic violations at least as much if not more than our BIPOC brothers and sisters. Statistics indicating racial disparities in traffic ticketing are well researched and known (3-6). I sat in that courtroom for hours as his was the last case to be presented, and as I sat there, I remembered previously sitting in community-based meetings discussing diversity, equity, and inclusion and brainstorming with my white peers how we can recruit and get more BIPOC folks to the table to weigh in on the issues that impact us all. I took a huge sigh of awareness in our county courtroom at that moment, aware that my husband was right where our local law enforcement expected him to be, in court with every racially profiled person they could target in our sundown town.
I am married to a Chicano man and we live in a sundown town.
If you are not sure what that means because you are white and/or privileged like me, let me explain what I recently learned about sundown towns and how I now know I live in one.
I was reading the book, “You Are Your Best Thing” by Tamara Burke & Brené Brown (which I highly recommend, BTW!) when I read a story about how many Black Americans struggle to travel into rural America due to racism experienced in places called sundown towns. I’ve often wondered why I didn’t see more BIPOC folks out and about in this beautiful rural mountain community with all the wonder nature has to offer here. So, I looked it up. WOW, I learned a lot in the process!
I learned that while most white people think these are towns in the Deep South, most of these towns are actually in the North, Midwest and the West. I learned these are places in North America defined as sundown towns, sunset towns, gray towns, or sundowner towns with “all-white municipalities or neighborhoods in the United States that practice a form of racial segregation by excluding non-whites via some combination of discriminatory local laws, intimidation or violence” (7). An article by The Denver Channel in 2021 described these places in detail and published, “What we have to watch for now is what we call second-generation sundown town issues. For example, an overwhelming white police force that still practices DWB policing — driving while black. An overwhelming white teaching staff that doesn’t have much of an interracial curriculum to teach either” (8). Besides knowing these towns by the overwhelming white teaching staff that doesn’t have much of an interracial curriculum to teach, discrinminatory local law practices including intimidation and/or violence, and a police force that practices racial profiling, “A sundown town as explained by James W. Loewen, a former sociology professor at the University of Vermont and author of Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, refers to a town, neighborhood, or community with a wholly white population, created intentionally by systematically keeping out ethnic minorities” (9), and “some sundown towns [keep] out Chinese Americans, Jews, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, even Mormons'' (10).
I learned that in addition to the indicators above, whenever one sees “Let’s Go Brandon” and other anti-Biden flags & signs including; “Trump Country", “Make America Great” or blue lives/all lives matter flags & signs, one can be clear they are traveling in sundown territory. That is when it clicked for me that I was living in one of these places. Last year, all along the highway surrounding my community someone decided to put up rows and rows of American flags. These flags were interspersed with anti-Biden, pro-Trump, make America great, and blue lives/all lives matter signs (See Photos).
Then I found out a local group calling themselves the Chaffee County Patriots (11) were behind this effort (12). These so-called “patriots”, of which a significant percentage of our local law enforcement are members, are clearly sending an aggressive message to all BIPOC folks to steer clear of our community and vieling their racist and white supremacy efforts under the flag of our country and the term patriots, thereby weaponizing our nation’s flag and the term patriots. Dennis Heap, the President of the Chaffee County Patriots makes this intent clear when he posted, “it is time for a grassroots effort, Chaffee County Patriots must Own Chaffee County,” (13). All the while, little old white lady folks like me often sit in blissful ignorance of the racism swamp in the sundown town we are sitting.
This all provides clarity to me around what I am witnessing my husband face in our sundown community for his leadership in promoting and practicing restorative healing centered anti-racist and anti-oppressive policies and practices in the space where education and mental health intersect. This space is a place where our local law enforcement seemingly want to have all power and control, legal or not. The battle between these two different belief systems are being played out as I write.
At least for my part this clarity is helpful, even when it hurts. As Brené Brown says, “Clear is kind”.
It is well researched and accepted that “the origins of modern-day policing can be traced back to the ‘Slave Patrol’"...with one mission: to establish a system of terror and squash slave uprisings with the capacity to pursue, apprehend, and return runaway slaves to their owners. Tactics included the use of excessive force to control and produce desired slave behavior” (14).
-Racist ideas, policies, and practices explain the targeting of my husband by our predominately white and “patriot” police force - including their use of discriminatory local laws, intimidation and/or violence towards him and marginalized students he endevors to protect (15).
-Racist ideas, policies, and practices clearly explain the public smear campaign by our local media telling one perspective (the white supremacy side) of what happened with our community high school on September 23rd 2021 - even before the DA (according to her own words in court) had a chance to look over the report of charges our media were reporting and supporting racist and oppressive narratives.
-Racist ideas, policies, and practices clearly explain why our predominantly white city administrators investigated themselves and found themselves guiltless for their support of the oppressive and illegal law enforcement practices being used against children in our community.
-Racist ideas, policies, and practices clearly explain why a predominantly white educational community would fail to stand strong with educational leaders who are engaging in healing centered and abolitionist educational practices.
-Racist ideas, policies, and practices clearly explain why the white school district leaders would select a white man to supplant the BIPOC man, as principal of the predominantly white high school with an overwhelming white teaching staff.
-Racist ideas, policies, and practices clearly explain why the predominantly white teaching staff in this community do not have much of an interracial curriculum to teach our children.
-Racist ideas, policies, and practices clearly explain why the message is there is no place for my BIPOC husband, children, and grandchildren on the land their ancestors occupied long before white colonization.
-Racist ideas, policies, and practices clearly explain why we do not see many BIPOC folks in this town enjoying the great outdoors, as evidenced at FIBArk 2022 - a sea of nearly all white faces.
Clarity is kind. We live in a sundown town.
Racist policies and practices are what my predominantly white community is rooted in. Racist policing is in full force here. I wonder, is this what my community will continue to choose?
Many BIPOC folks will teach us, the system is not broken, it is working exactly as it is designed (Just Us - Leonard Sumner). The town of Salida has been co-opted (interestingly enough pronounced Sa LIE duh, not the linguistically accurate pronunciation Sa LEE duh). Racial equity is a LIE here. Those folks who choose and cheer for the white guy representing the status quo to replace the Chicano guy representing restoration and healing, equity and inclusion, are simply choosing the racist and inequitable status quo for all our community's children. They are choosing to support the continuation of yet another Colorado Sundown Town.
We must find the internal fortitude that supports and implements what is needed to promote antiracist and anti-oppressive policies and practices in our local laws, law enforcement, city administration, leaders, and education system. It is beyond time for the sun to shine brightly on this and all sundown towns across Colorado - and North America as a whole.
I know there are many like-minded people in my sundown community. I know this because throughout this ordeal my husband has been approached on the street, in the store, and while walking on this land by total strangers with words of encouragement like: “I don’t know you, but I know who you are. I wish I could be on your jury. You did the right thing” and “I wish every educator would act as you did that day to help my child if my child were in need” and much more. I know this because not once since September 23, 2021 has my husband been approached in the spirit of harassment and abuse by anyone except (unfortunately and unsurprisingly) some of our local law enforcement and their family members.
We can choose to change the narrative of our town. We can choose healing and restoration. We can engage in collective healing from the trauma of racism and oppression. This is our choice.
Let it begin with us - here and now. There is work to do. We must create spaces in our schools and community for equity and inclusion. We must confront and correct a police force and system rooted in discriminatory laws, intimidation, and violence. I call on equity partners (16) everywhere to help me take back our Nation's towns from the white supremacists who will at this time use the American flag to send aggressive sundown messages to our BIPOC neighbors - including my BIPOC husband, children, and grandchildren.
Let us create spaces where all feel welcomed. Let us take the American flags down and/or put up flags representing diversity, equity, and inclusion with the American flags to ensure the message is clear.
“ALL ARE WELCOME HERE”
In Power & With Humility.
3.) Racial Disparities in Traffic Ticketing by Ronnie Dunn Associate Professor Of Urban Studies, Cleveland State University; https://crimeandjusticeresearchalliance.org/rsrch/racial-disparities-in-traffic-ticketing/
4.) Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2015. “Contacts Between Police and the Public, 2015.” Available at: https://bjs.ojp.gov/library/publications/contacts-between-police-and-public-2015
5.) Stanford Computational Policy Lab. 2019. “A Large-scale Analysis of Racial Disparities in Police Stops Across the United States. Available at: https://openpolicing.stanford.edu/
6.) See also Baumgartner, F., et al. 2017. “Racial Disparities in Traffic Stop Outcomes.” Duke Forum for Law and Social Change. 9(21).
16.) “Equity Partner” is a term coined by my colleague Amber Smith, LPC who is with The Institute for Racial Equity and Excellence in Aurora Colorado