RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The Four Corners is the name given to the only point where four U.S. states meet: Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. The town of Farmington, New Mexico is one of the largest municipalities in that area, and it borders the Navajo Nation. Some Native Americans say what goes on in Farmington is not as pretty as the surrounding landscape.
Daniel Kraker of Arizona Public Radio reports.
DANIEL KRAKER: Farmington already has a painful history with its neighbor, the Navajo Nation. Back in the 1970s, the city made national headlines when three Navajo men were tortured and killed by a group of white teenagers. Navajo Duane Yazzie(ph) helped lead several protest marches after those murders.
Mr. DUANE YAZZIE (Activist): I think that the racism back in the '70s was very blatant, very outward. Over the years, there is still racism but it's of a more subtle nature.
KRAKER: However, Yazzie says that subtlety may not be the case any longer. And more than 30 years later, he's organizing marches again in Farmington and in other towns surrounding the Navajo Nation.
Mr. YAZZIE: To commemorate the experiences of those individuals who have been hurt as a result of racial violence.
KRAKER: Yazzie is responding to a particularly violent summer in Farmington. First, a Navajo named William Blackie was severely beaten by three white teenagers in June. The teens allegedly yelled racial slurs while they beat him. The trio has been charged with hate crimes. Six days later, a Navajo man was shot and killed by a while police officer in a Wal-Mart parking lot. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the shooting.
Early this month, hundreds of mostly Navajo people joined Yazzie's march and walked peacefully into Farmington.
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KRAKER: Darrel Joe(ph) drove in from the nearby reservation town of Shiprock. Six years ago, her sister-in-law was murdered by a Farmington man who's now own death row for killing several Navajos. She says Navajos have always labeled Farmington as a city of discrimination.
Ms. DARREL JOE (Activist): This morning, it's hard for us to be here to, you know, say we're all marching for peace. And then truckers and cars go by flipping the bird at us, you know. We're going to see that but, you know, we're above that and we're going to stand strong.
KRAKER: After the walk, protestors attended a spirited rally in a dusty lot next to the highway leading into town.
Mr. MIKE TOLEDO (Activist): There's no justice in Farmington for Navajos!
KRAKER: Mike Toledo(ph), a young Navajo with jet-black hair spilling down his back, stepped on to the stage. As he addressed the crowd, his body visibly shook.
Mr. TOLEDO: These white people, they don't think about us. They just want our money; that's what keeps Farmington going. But they still treat us like crap.
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KRAKER: Farmington City Manager Bob Hudson understands the motives for this latest protest walk, but he disputes the discrimination label.
Mr. BOB HUDSON (City Manager, Farmington): I'm sure there are many feel that feel like they've been wronged. But I've also heard of many people that feel like, you know, they've raised their family here and they've never felt any injustices.
KRAKER: Hudson does acknowledge the recent beating of William Blackie was embarrassing for the city.
Mr. HUDSON: Clearly, it's not something that happens on a daily, or weekly, or even a monthly basis, because there's been great strides since the '70s to now.
KRAKER: Author and former journalist Rod Barker agrees things are far more positive in Farmington than they were 30 years ago. Barker wrote a book about the murders in the 1970s called The Broken Circle.
Mr. ROD BARKER (Author, The Broken Circle): I think Farmington has changed. I think that there is a capacity for contemplation and reflection that wasn't there previously. But there are going to be inherent problems in a border community where you have two very, very different cultures.
KRAKER: Despite those differences, Navajo organizers hope these marches lead to a spirit of collaboration between the tribe and border towns. If they don't, they warn, their message could turn from one of peace to one of outright protest.
For NPR News, I'm Daniel Kraker.
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