Husband and wife Courtney and Nicole Mallery say they have withstood more than two years of terror and hatred after purchasing their 1,000-acre ranch in El Paso County, Colorado, called Freedom Acres Ranch in August 2020. They were arrested on February 6 on felony warrants and were booked by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. Now, out on bond, the two are still fighting and have garnered attention from activists.
A week after their arrest, Rocky Mountain NAACP leaders and representatives from the Martin Luther King Holiday Commission held a rally outside the Colorado State Capitol on February 13 calling for legislation that would criminalize racially motivated calls to police.
The story of Courtney and Nicole Mallery, who are U.S. Marine Corps veterans, was relatively unknown until January, when Kaia Niambi Shivers, founder and editor-in-chief of Ark Republic, published a series of articles on their plight.
White neighbors have stolen tools from the Mallerys, killed their animals, damaged their fence multiple times, jammed their surveillance cameras, cut their electricity lines and stolen well water, Ms. Shivers writes. She also describes several incidents that threatened the lives of the Mallerys. During one incident, Courtney Mallery was chased by a White man in a vehicle. During another, Nicole Mallery was almost run off the road after returning from a church function. The couple has been stalked and has had guns pointed at them.
The reason? Because the rural community wants to steal their land, Courtney Mallery said to Ark Republic. Residents of Yoder, Colorado, an unincorporated community in El Paso County, went as far as leaking the Mallerys’ address, posting Courtney Mallery’s picture and posting threatening comments on a Facebook community page. Following the leaks, the couple went into hiding.
Ms. Shivers isn’t aware of the current status of the Facebook page, but she said investigators have stepped in to review everything. “I’m pretty sure that the Facebook page was taken down because after the doxing incident, they reported it and they went into a program that protected their privacy,” she told The Final Call.
When Eric Randall, founder of the Denver-based self-defense organization Brothers Against Racist Cops, heard about the Mallerys’ story, he and another individual from Colorado Springs started patrolling the 1,000 acres of land.
“We would do periodic border patrols along their fence lines and along the trouble areas where their neighbors were getting into their property, poisoning their animals and everything. We would do this stuff throughout the evening, throughout the day, pretty much,” he said. “We helped with a lot of farmhand work, things I’ve never done before. I’ve never mucked a stall before.”
Mr. Randall is licensed to carry and is a license to carry (LTC) handgun instructor. He patrolled for three weekends in January, on Friday evening to Sunday morning. He recalled an incident when one of the Mallerys’ neighbors pulled up in a different truck than he usually drives with his facial hair grown out.
“He was definitely trying to change his appearance. He is retired army. And when he was speaking with Ms. Mallery, he was standing outside of her gate open carry. He had his pistol on his side. So my son and I, we were concealed at the time, but we had to move into a position because we didn’t want him to attack her or anything like that on our watch,” he expressed.
Both he and his son had on bulletproof vests. Mr. Randall described how once the neighbor pulled up, other neighbors across the street took defensive positions in their own yards. “We could tell that all these people, all these neighbors, were pretty much in cahoots against the Mallerys,” he said.
Courtney Mallery started a change.org petition in January to “fire corrupt Deputy Gerhart for abusing power to steal the only local Black farmers land.” The petition was directed to Colorado Governor Jared Polis, Colorado Attorney General Philip Weiser, and El Paso County Sheriff Joseph Roybal and has been signed by more than 10,000 people.
“In spite of fighting for our country, my family and I have faced threats of lynching and hanging and now live in constant fear for our lives in rural Colorado Springs. I don’t know if it is 2023 or the late 1800s, but fires, pitchforks, and ropes are familiar sights for my family,” Courtney Mallery writes in the petition. “And just like in the late 1800s, the only reason is that I am a Black farmer who dares to live the American dream of working my land, providing farm fresh foods to my community, and leaving something valuable and everlasting to my family.”
“The individual leading this reign of terror and trauma is our own Deputy Emory Ray Gerhart, with the rest of our local police force participating in the abuse and following his lead. It’s incredibly sad, disheartening, and hurtful that those who have sworn to ‘serve and protect’ are the reason my family and I have had our land and our lives threatened,” he continues. “We have been targeted! Our land has been targeted! We’ve been told we can’t use most of the land under the threat of penalty and arrest.”
On December 14, 2022, Deputy Sergeant Gerhart issued a warrant against the Mallerys for stalking, tampering with a utility meter and petty theft. Because their mail was being forwarded at the time, the Mallerys did not receive the notice until January 12, 2023.
At a February 14 news conference, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office vehemently denied the Mallerys’ allegations of racial discrimination and said neighbors were also arrested for various issues. The office released case reports but has not released the 44 hours of body camera footage from officers.
“We have a police department that determines that what they want to do is take 44 hours of body camera footage and turn it into 20 minutes, trying to justify their lack of action,” said Vern Howard, chair of the Colorado Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission, at the Feb. 13 rally.
“Having been out to their ranch, having seen how hard they’ve worked for our community, it hurts that someone can be manipulated, victimized, attacked relentlessly in hopes that they will run them off of their own land,” said Portia Prescott, the president of Rocky Mountain NAACP. “We have such an amazing couple, such an amazing family, having the audacity to do what we need them to do, and you have a neighbor wanting to persecute them and you have an entire county joining to persecute them.”
Mr. Randall explained that the arrests were a result of numerous calls from neighbors and that the core battle is over property lines.
“They were arguing over the easement, and the easement is basically a driveway. And they were arguing who owns this, who owns the rights to this and some of the neighbors thought they did, the Mallerys think they do. They have the proof. They gave these proofs to the county and the sheriff’s office and all that but the county and the sheriff’s office, they’re not really trying to hear what they got to say,” he said.
He noted that before the Mallerys moved in, neighbors were using the property’s resources for free. One neighbor was using the property’s well water, he stated.
“This is proof of the interest that the neighbors across the way, that they definitely still want to have those water rights and they were not able to, once the Mallerys prove with the property lines, where the property starts and where their lines cross at. Once it was determined that this was their water, the neighbors across the street were not as neighborly anymore,” he said.
After posting his support of the Mallerys, he started receiving calls from other Black farmers in Colorado facing the same thing. The Final Call attempted to contact the Mallerys but was unable to reach them.
A centuries-long problem
Experts say Black farmers owned more than 16 million acres in 1910. In 2017, Black farmers owned only 0.5 percent, or 4.7 million acres. According to a study published in the American Economic Association’s Papers and Proceedings journal in May 2022, Black farmers in the United States lost roughly $326 billion worth of acreage during the 20th century. The study’s authors called the figure a conservative estimate.
Ms. Shivers, the founder and co-runner of Black Farmers Index, a digital directory of Black farmers in the United States, is a direct descendant of agriculturalists from the South. “My father is from Mississippi. My mom is from Louisiana. And so we have family histories where people were run off of their land from White domestic terrorism,” she said.
In recent years, she has heard about two drive-by shootings at two separate, Black-owned farms. She also heard about tractors and trucks being stolen and property and crop damage.
Ms. Shivers, who is also a professor of writing and journalism at New York University and will be teaching food sustainability and environmental studies, described the racial backlash that rose against Black farmers after a bill that would benefit them was introduced in 2021.
“Black farmers are going through terror. It’s not a myth. It’s not a proposition. It’s not a suggestion. It’s an actual living reality. And it happens in different ways,” she said.
She explained that rural America is underreported, but Black experiences in rural America are even more so underreported. When she first broke the story on the Mallerys via social media, Black farmers responded.
“It was the Black farmers that got activated,” she said. “And the reason why, in my opinion, they got activated (was) because they had either experienced something similar or there’s a camaraderie amongst Black farmers.”
“I would call it a combination of being neglected and left out and exploited and abused in the agricultural space,” she added.
John Wesley Boyd Jr., founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association, said the organization worked with the Mallerys in 2019 to walk them through the process of purchasing farmland, and they had reported to him the race hatred they were experiencing. He noted that cell phones are now capturing what Black farmers have been going through for decades.
“People are seeing firsthand in real time what it’s like, what it feels like. And the deck is stacked against them, because when Black farmers are in these rural areas, the local sheriffs and all of these persons are White, and it’s very tough to get a fair greeting,” he said. “Hunters come on your property and just start hunting and shooting on your property, even though your property is posted. And when you call the game warden and the sheriff, they side with the White hunters who are pretty much friends of theirs.”
“And issues with property lines with White farmers who are stealing acres for many, many decades like this, but it hasn’t been captured in real-time like what you’re seeing with this couple,” he added.
He hopes more Black people who own land will video record what they go through.
Ms. Shivers explained some of the history of White terrorism against Black farmers, starting with the Homestead Acts of 1862 and 1866, which parceled land to largely White Americans.
“America was founded on stolen land, and America was founded and operated for hundreds of years with this idea that you can steal people’s land. If you have the military might and the more strength and more arm, you can just walk onto somebody’s real estate and just say it’s mine and mow people down for it,” she said.
“Because this type of behavior has been codified, it has been accepted in White consciousness, and so it’s not looked at as being what we say it is, hostile, and murderous and terrorism,” she further stated.
Land ownership and security
Ms. Shivers explained that in order for life to improve for Black farmers, the idea of “owning” land has to be done away with.
“I think the biggest thing is that America operates on this idea that you can own land, and it’s up against the Indigenous, melanated idea that we are just caretakers of the land,” she expressed.
She described that the USDA and big agriculture are failing America. “You have people who thought they owned the land like they owned enslaved people, like they own animals and they abused the land. So now you have a lot of depleted soil. You have a failure in the agricultural system to produce the level in which it used to produce and produce nutritious and healthy food,” she explained. “But you know who did hold on to the tradition from the purview of taking care of the land? Black Farmers. Black farmers, Indigenous farmers, held on to it.”
Mr. Boyd recalled a promise by President Joe Biden to have a meeting about some of the ongoing problems Black farmers are facing.
“He promised to do so, so we can talk about these kinds of issues that are facing us and how we’re losing our land and how we’re being terrorized out here and the law isn’t in our favor out here. And that’s why many Black farmers voted for Biden, the fact that things will change, and nothing has happened,” he said. “He was the one that said we were going to have a meeting, and since (then), I’ve been following up with the White House. The meeting hasn’t happened.”
Due to the lack of response from the Biden administration, Mr. Boyd sent an inquiry to the Department of Justice to look into the civil rights violations against the Mallerys and other Black farmers.
In order for Black farmers to live in peace, more Black people need to buy land, Mr. Boyd shared. “The more landowners you have, the more stake and voice that you have in those local communities. And that particular couple are surrounded by White landowners out there, but if we have more landowners that are people of color, you would have more of a stake and more of a voice in these local townships,” he said.
For Mr. Randall, security is imperative when building anything. “You have to have some sort of security so that that peace is not threatened by outside entities. So, before you build that infrastructure, you have to have a defensive system, first, as your base. And then you can build the infrastructure on top of that defensive system, because as we see, when we build great things for ourselves and none of them have security in front of them, it’s ultimately burned and destroyed,” he said.
The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad and His student and helper the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan teaches, “farming is the engine of our national life.” They also teach “business is warfare.”
“We have to have land. We have to have the intelligence to extract raw materials out of the land to make products that are useful to ourselves and others. If we can produce products that are useful to ourselves, what then does the Honorable Elijah Muhammad mean by ‘sell the surplus?’ We look out for our own needs first, then whatever you have over you sell it to others! This opens up a field of ‘trade and commerce,’” the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said in Part 2 of his 2011 Holy Day of Atonement message, delivered at the Nation of Islam’s Mosque Maryam in Chicago.
“Somebody is vying for that dollar that you are vying for! So if they can outsmart you, if they can trick you—if they can give you an offer that you ‘can’t refuse,’ then they’ll take your company from you, because you don’t have soldiers!” he further stated. “And if you don’t have any soldiers, you will never be successful in business!”