Human Relations 201-2 Beckie Holt Roy Smith’s America Paper Roy Smith’s America was a Dateline 20/20 News Story covering the vicious attacks on Roy Smith, a man who desired nothing more than to live quietly on a ranch in Colorado he purchased, by the community he lived near because of the community’s fear and ignorant racial beliefs. He lived on the ranch for almost 20 years before being driven off his own land by vandalism, beatings and attempts on his life.
The case later became a Colorado Civil Rights case. The officers who had jurisdiction over the area his ranch was in did not believe the attacks occurred as Roy described them. It took an attorney hearing Roy’s story to finally believe him and bring the case to trial. There were passive and active participants in the story involving Smith and the community. The passive participants included the town’s people, Sherriff Department and those who spoke about the acts committed against Smith but wouldn’t do anything about it.
Often time fear immobilizes people into no action, when they are not sure their single voice can make a difference. The active members included his neighbor Mr. Berube. Berube has hired Smith to do some work on his property and a wage dispute arose when the work was completed and it was time for Berube to pay Smith. Berube’s dogs attacked Smith on 5 different occasions, and when confronted, Berube agreed to pay the medical bills and was ticketed by law enforcement, but never admitted to letting the dogs loose to attack Smith.
Berube said Smith had let the dogs loose himself and was responsible for the attacks. Berube acknowledged he was an active anti-racist. This began a long series of attacks against Smith by Berube. Roy Smith grew up in Mississippi and has vivid accounts of cross burnings, KKK retaliations against blacks and segregation at the height of tension in the Deep South. He fled the south and became a hobo. He traveled all over the United States and worked a variety of jobs over the years. In the 1970’s he settled in Colorado, became a rancher and gold pander.
He worked hard for the life he lived each day but was content. The cabin he lived in on the ranch had no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing. He was not welcomed to the area by his neighbors in rural Colorado, a state largely white at that time, with very conservative racial rural communities. He was beaten, had acid poured on his clothes and his house vandalized. The local doctor treated Smith for 20 different sets of injuries. Smith would file a report with the Sherriff department each time an attack happened.
Charges were never filed and investigations of the cases were never completed. Smith set up mirror in around his home to see who was coming up the road. He often hid in the water tank at night just to get some sleep. People often degraded him with words such as “nigger” and racial slurs. He felt dirty and “uncleanable” when he heard these comments. It reminded him of life back in Mississippi. The severity of the conflict would escalate between Smith and Berube when a truck hit Smith while he was walking on the road near his home.
Smith reported the incident to the Sherriff department. The sheriff turned the case over to the State Patrol office. The officer who investigated for the State Patrol found the truck was owned by Berube. Berube’s license was already revoked and he should not have driving at all. The case was taken away from the trooper and given back to the Sherriff’s office. The case stalled for 26 days and then was officially closed. A lack of information was stated as the reason why. Roy Smith says at this point in the movie he wanted to leave, but had no way to leave or get away.
He hoped the abuse would stop soon and people would let him live a peaceful life. But the worst was yet to come. A group of men burst into Smith’s home while he was taking a bath. They strung him up naked upside down by the rafters in his home. When he finally freed himself he had to wait 5 days before he was able to walk to the neighbors for help. He thought he was going to die while he hung upside down from the rafters. He couldn’t tell the neighbor about the wire marks that were visible, but did receive medical treatment for the swelling and pain in his groin area.
He remarks at this point he felt an overwhelming sense of sadness, that one human being could do this to another human being. The last straw in the dispute between Smith and Berube came when he was shot at by Berube with a high powered rifle. Again, Smith reported the incident to the sheriff. And again, nothing was done about it. At that point, Smith decided it was time to leave his ranch behind and find a place to live safely. The case went to Federal Court once Smith’s attorney realized this was a huge human right violation’s case and agreed to support Smith and bring the case to trial.
When interviewed, the Sherriff’s department said they believed they had given exemplary service to Smith regarding the investigation of the cases. Evidence finally surfaced showing both neglect and the department’s conscious choice to neglect Smith’s human rights. One sheriff department member admitted Smith was only called “nigger” or “Nigger Roy” in the reports on record. They even entered “Nigger Roy” in the department computer system as Smith’s name. When pressed, the department acknowledged they had not believed the stories Smith shared with them, and wondered why he hadn’t just moved away when the attacks began.
At no time did the department apologize to Roy Smith, and no formal charges were ever prosecuted against the neighbor Mr. Berube. I couldn’t believe as I sat and watched this movie that Smith had the courage to stay on his ranch through all of this. He was a man of conviction, and hoped the best in people would eventually win out. I wonder if he ever mentally got over all he had experienced. The capacity for forgiveness can heal wounds that seem will never heal. I also thought about the members of the Sherriff Department and their conscious choice to look the other way over the many years the attacks took place.
They are a disgrace to the law enforcement oath of honor they swear to protect. I am thankful we viewed this movie in class. I am also thankful the story has been told. For every story that we read or see, there are many others that have no voice. It is a reminder to be aware of the choices we make personally, and those of people around us, and the need to be willing to speak for those who are unable to speak themselves. Each human being deserves equal treatment when they choose to live a life among each of us, just as we ask of the world around us.