Essay: Why Reparations in Colorado

by: Tamara Rhone

The human mind has not changed through the centuries.  Clearly, you have a few individuals who broaden their perspectives and open their minds but in general, it is rare.

The 1860 United States Census counted 384,000 slaveholders in the country.  The typical family of five meant that less than two million people in a country with a population of over 31 million people, were directly or indirectly involved in a family that held enslaved individuals.  It was incumbent and paramount that political, economic, and social control be held by whites by any means necessary, even if it meant war!

Marginalization of people of African descent in this country heightened to keep control whenever that power structure is threatened – from designated subhuman chattel property status to making it illegal to read and write, the forced rape of women of color, selling away and breaking up family units, curfews, and a myriad of other social, political, economic and emotional controls.  Post-Civil War, this control continued throughout the country through social control, lynching, redlining, unequal treatment by police and the justice system, environmental racism, medical apartheid and experimentation, voter suppression, the lack of equal access to quality education and job opportunities and more.

This is not geographically relegated to the South.  In Colorado, we have a legacy of improprieties from claim jumping, land theft, a lack of access and opportunity to equitable education, fair housing and bank loans and of course, police brutality.   The rise in power of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado and its strong political influence including a Governor and Denver’s Mayor in the 1920’s is a prime example of the white supremacist influence.  Fair Housing and Keyes v. School District No. 1 are two examples of attempted redress.

So, if you ask why reparations are right and necessary to begin repair of past egregious acts in Colorado, this begins to address why it is necessary.  From the lynching of Preston “John” Porter in 1900 in Limon, Colorado to the 2019 murder of Elijah McClain by Aurora law enforcement, the pattern continues.  Rather than a noose, it is now a knee or ketamine but the intent remains the same — a patent disregard and respect for human life! The fact that members of Aurora law enforcement celebrated after viewing footage and photos of the murder of Elijah McClain makes it even more egregious!  This is the continued marginalization and oppression of a people who have every human right to full opportunity and full citizenship in this country.  Repair must happen to correct wrongs of the past and the present!  Marginalization and oppression have occurred from past to present whether by an actual owner of enslaved persons or through the act of complicity!

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