Yes, small town and rural Colorado are protesting for Black Lives Matter, too

Black Lives Matters supporters hold a rally underneath the Wet Mountains, in Westcliffe, Colo. (Courtesy Angela Camarillo)

“Hi, don’t be racist, don’t be ignorant, thank you,” the sign read.

Theo Guerra, a one-man protest, wanted to ignite a movement in the streets of La Junta, Colorado.

On May 31, less than a week after George Floyd’s death, Guerra went out with that sign.

“After walking through the town for several hours, I posted to Facebook inviting others to join,” Guerra said. “Later that evening two others had accompanied me, and within the following few days, the word had spread and people had begun joining us.”

Eventually, protesters even bought an advertisement in the La Junta Tribune, the local paper, calling on everyone in the La Junta area to take part.

“Things may not always be our fault or within our control, but how we react is,” Guerra said. “I’m not naive and I know we won’t be able to convince everyone to begin thinking rationally, but if I can help one person better themselves then I will have succeeded. That one person can help another, and that person another, and we can begin a snowball effect.”

According to Guerra, protests in La Junta have continued to take place on a nightly basis.

What has happened in La Junta is happening all across small-town Colorado, as protests are touching every corner on Colorado following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in police custody in Minneapolis.

Across Southern Colorado, these events take the shape of these small communities that want it known their community is part of the national discussion.

In Westcliffe, about 75 protesters marched through the town on June 6. Counter protests, at least a few dozen of them, also turned out to demonstrate against the Black Lives Matter movement.

Yevette Christey Kara Mason Westcliffe Black Lives Matter
Yevette Christy, pastor at Community United Methodist Church in Westcliffe, Colo., speaks to a group of 75 Black Lives Matters protestors on June 6, 2020.

Yevette Christy, a pastor at Westcliffe’s Community United Methodist Church, said the town of 620 is both very conservative and very rural.

In many ways, Westcliffe is Trump country, which makes the march in Westcliffe all the more unique.

“We saw what was happening around the country, and we wanted to be able to do something even though we live in a small town,” said Ian Pallozzi, an organizer for the protest in Westcliffe. “I thought it was really important to show support for Black Lives Matter, and also to remember the lives unnecessarily lost throughout the country.”

It was met with resistance as group of counter-protestors, some armed, mocked Christy and fellow protestors with chants of “All Lives Matter” and with mimicked choking.

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Yevette Christy (center on sidewalk), pastor at Community United Methodist Church, and Black Lives Matters Protestors march through a pro-Trump counter protest on June 6, 2020 in Westcliffe Colo,. (Courtesy Photo)

“Many of the people were saying ‘I can’t breathe’ in a very unkind way,” Christy said. “‘I can’t breath, I can’t breathe,’ you know, holding their throats. […] I cried, I walked through with tears.”

Despite these demonstrations, however, Pastor Yevette, as she’s known, maintained that the march was “beautiful.”

“In showing up to march, we have taken the first step towards acknowledging the sins of our nation, the use and misuse of brown bodies, and the cultural trauma and residual impact we continually witness,” Christy said in a speech given after the protest. “We are here today to declare that we are committed to undoing our historical narrative of dissonance, hatred and violence.”

Read the full speech here.

The protests have largely remained peaceful. Police presence has been low. In Westcliffe, only a few of the sheriff’s deputies showed up to the march, opting to patrol the march in vehicles.

Though in one incident in Alamosa, a defense attorney has been charged with shooting the driver of a truck that was slowly approaching a group of protesters but incidents of police and protests clashes are rare.

While the protests are largely a show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and with George Floyd, they are driven for a desire for change on a very local level.

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Protestors in Trinidad, Colo., laid on the ground for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to protest the death of George Floyd. (Courtesy Amanda Palmer)

In Trinidad, organizers established a public Facebook group titled “Keep the Conversation Going” to continue facilitating further action, where they encourage activists to participate in city council meetings, even naming the policies surrounding Trinidad police body cams as a specific area of focus.

Back in La Junta, Guerra isn’t just waiting for police to change he hopes his one man

“Currently, we are [preparing] to further support and present our peaceful protests,” said Theo Guerra of La Junta. “No matter your color, police brutality is never okay. Hopefully in the midst of all the world’s chaos, we can influence police officials to further educate themselves on better handling their emotions in certain situations, and separating that from an inappropriate return.”

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