SPC Adam Jarrell in Afghanistan

ALBUQUERQUE, NM – Today the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico filed a racial discrimination complaint with the federal Office for Civil Rights, Department of Justice on behalf of Adam Jarrell, a decorated Specialist in the New Mexico Army National Guard. Jarrell, a member of the 920th Engineering Unit, is the only African-American in his unit of approximately 216 soldiers. Jarrell alleges that while he was deployed in a combat zone in Afghanistan in 2009, other soldiers in his unit subjected him to racist comments and threats, culminating with an incident in which he found a noose hanging outside his barracks door. When he brought this misconduct to his commanding officers, they ignored the issue and in some cases explicitly condoned the offending soldiers’ behavior.

“No one should suffer the kind of racial hatred Specialist Jarrell experienced, least of all someone who is on the front lines of battle,” said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson. “Our military is supposed to maintain a professional, disciplined fighting force. People’s lives depend on it. Racism and racially motivated threats have no place in our state’s National Guard units.”

SPC Jarrell alleges that the racially-motivated harassment began after he reported a non-commissioned officer for physically abusing two fellow subordinate soldiers. Breaking military rules, SPC Jarrell’s Captain disclosed to the offending non-commissioned officer that the misconduct report originated from Jarrell. From this point forward, Jarrell’s non-commissioned officers subjected him to threats of physical violence, increasingly harsh retaliations and racially-motivated harassment.

SPC Jarrell’s non-commissioned officers routinely referred to him in front of his fellow soldiers as “mayate,”  a Mexican-American slang derogatory term often thought of as the Spanish counterpart to the word “nigger.” On January 5, 2010, Jarrell returned to his barrack, which was solely occupied by him, and found a noose hanging outside his door. SPC Jarrell made multiple attempts to report this misconduct, but his superiors made no meaningful attempt to address this serious and pervasive problem. Instead, they attempted to justify use of the word “mayate” and joined the campaign of retaliation against SPC Jarrell, even attempting to medically discharge him for “bee allergies.”

“From day one, our trainers hammered home that our lives depended on the guy standing next to us,” said Jarrell. “How am I expected to entrust my life to a fellow soldier who hates me because of the color of my skin? How are we to accomplish our mission if unit cohesion is poisoned by racism? This is a serious problem, not just for me, but for the entire unit.”

His complaints reached even the NMANG commanding officer, Major General Kenny Montoya, but still nothing was done. Having exhausted all possible avenues, SPC Jarrell contacted the ACLU of New Mexico for assistance. The complaint demands that the Office for Civil Rights hold responsible those who subjected SPC Jarrell to offensive racist language, threats of physical assault, countless acts of retaliation and the horrific image of a noose hanging outside his sleeping quarters.

The full OCR complaint can be read here: National Guard OCR Complaint

SPC Adam Jarrell is represented by ACLU-NM Staff Attorney Leon F. Howard and ACLU-NM Managing Attorney Laura Schauer Ives.