A sorry chapter

There have been some sad chapters in the history of Montezuma County – events that left a lingering mark on the entire community.

One of those was the strike by about half of the teachers in School District Re-1 in the 1980s. It left bitter feelings on both sides that endured for decades.

Another was the killing of Cortez Police Officer Dale Claxton, and the shootings of three other law officers, in 1998. The shootings were done by three local men who were on the extreme fringes of the far right. The hunt for the fugitives lasted months, and to this day the men’s motive for stealing a water truck and subsequently killing Claxton when he pulled up behind them is unknown.

Now it seems we are in the midst of yet another sad chapter that will leave unhappy memories for years to come.

The pandemic is certainly the triggering factors behind this miserable time. But it didn’t have to be quite this way. When the illness hit, we had the opportunity to adopt the same attitude that prevailed in this country after 9/11 – the camaraderie, the feeling that “we’re all in this together, let’s help each other out.”

Instead, this time around both our nation and our local community became deeply divided.

When the novel coronavirus hit, medical experts scrambled to find out how it spread and how best to prevent it. Before long, they began advising people to wear masks.

A sizable group decided they didn’t want to – for no particular reason, just because.

Sadly, our own county commissioners fell right in line with this “We don’t want no stinking doctors giving us advice!” attitude. Presumably, if one of them developed cancer or diabetes, he would go to an actual doctor for the most advanced treatment rather than following suggestions made in Facebook posts. But when it came to covid-19, they decided they were more knowledgeable than immunologists and researchers.

Enraged by the harm wrought on the economy by the pandemic, they advocated a Jim Jonesian approach, in which we were all supposed to be willing to drink the Kool-Aid and possibly die in order to get shops and bars open again. Any effort to try to stop the virus from spreading, to try to stay healthy, was regarded as foolish.

At commission meetings, masks were proclaimed “ridiculous.” The county’s two deaths early on from the virus drew little sympathy, only the comment, “They had pre-existing conditions!” When Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issued a mask mandate, county employees swiftly got an email that basically undercut the mandate and assured them they didn’t have to wear facial coverings.

County leaders argued loudly and sometimes rudely with the district attorney when he came in to voice concerns about that email. They shouted at state health officials in Zoom meetings and sometimes hung up on them. When they talked to local hospital representatives, their main concern seemed to be not how to keep people healthy, but how many sick people the hospital could handle if things reopened, and what the hospital CEO’s salary was.

All this helped ensure that our community was divided into two camps. Retail outlets have been split as well – those that observe the state mandate, and those who threw it to the wind, encouraging people to waltz into their establishments without masks because “we haven’t had a problem so far.” (I’ve driven drunk, and I haven’t had an accident yet! Would that excuse fly?) Many people at high risk for covid – a sizable group that includes anyone overweight, with high blood pressure, over 65, or with another health problem – decided to visit only outlets that observed the mask mandate, or else to just order items online, further hamstringing the local economy.

Many people have said they will never go into certain local establishments again.

Then there’s another controversy over the marches that began in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The protests were peaceful and largely silent, though protesters did carry signs asking drivers to honk in support. But the demonstrations were upsetting to some folks who felt they were unfair to local law-enforcement agencies, which very rarely have any serious complaints against them. So there began to be motorized demonstrations that, in addition to a pro-police message, had lots of pro-Trump, pro-Confederacy displays.

Many people in our county are merely trying to make a living and get by during all of this. They aren’t taking part in either demonstration. They don’t want to get sick or their families to get sick. They just want life to return to the way it was before February.

We hope, now that Donald Trump and many White House officials have contracted the virus, our commissioners will realize that anyone can get it, and will encourage people to wear masks and practice social distancing. It isn’t too late for them to alter their message.

There is no advantage to encouraging division in the community. As things already are, there will be bitter feelings for years to come. We need to focus on the positive, think about our friends and neighbors, and rein in our own anger and depression. We appreciate the fact that the Cortez City Council issued a statement that took no sides on the demonstrations but urged people to be civil.

Whichever side you’re on, the “other side” isn’t going to go away. We need to start thinking about the other end of the tunnel instead and what it will look like when we get into the light again.

From Editorials.