Albuquerque made international news as the result of a police lapel-cam video gone viral, of officers killing a homeless mentally-ill man on March 16. James Boyd, or Abba, as he preferred, was the 37th person shot and the 22nd killed by police in Albuquerque since 2010. (The toll has risen to 23 after another police shooting on March 25. There was a non-fatal shooting by plain clothes US marshals (caution, graphic content and language) on March 28.)
It is due only to the lapel cams that we know how Abba died. The police have refused to make many of their (our) videos public, but the videos we have seen are difficult to watch. WHY was this video released? Soon after the shooting, the newly hired Chief of Police pronounced it “justified.” His hasty conclusion caused him and the Mayor a lot of grief. It appears the Chief, the police and their supporters believe the video shows the shooting was justified, or it would never have been released. Clearly what the police believe and what the public sees are two vastly incongruous realities. Nearly 2 weeks after the shooting, APD finally admitted that no one from the Crisis Intervention Team was ever called to the scene during the 4-hour standoff with Abba, who was apparently asleep when the police arrived to confront him.
Years of complaints by family members of the 21 killed before Abba have been largely unseen by the public, though their families have continually advocated for their dead loved ones at every City Council meeting and at numerous marches. Civil lawsuits have been filed, at least $26 million dollars in taxpayer-funded settlements have been paid by the City to date, but no officer has ever faced criminal charges. The Department of Justice has been conducting an investigation of the police and the use of force as well as training and other issues, and the Mayor has begged to have that report soon, so he can “act on their recommendations.” The DoJ has just announced their investigation is complete and have scheduled a press conference for Thursday. Amid calls for the DoJ to take-over APD, the Mayor now says he is allocating an additional $1 million in his budget for more police training on mental illness.
But citizens of Albuquerque have seen enough, and the city has had demonstrations, a candlelight vigil, and many meetings as disillusion grows like the wild mustard that has taken over every open space in town this spring.
The first demonstration organized by ANSWER brought 1000-1500 people to the streets, one of the largest non-violent demonstrations since W’s Iraqi invasion. A second demonstration called by a mysterious operation purporting to be “Anonymous” attracted a rowdy crowd of 350 or so. Local organizers did not find the affiliation authentic, and due to the appearance of outside unknowns calling for people to sit in and face arrest at police headquarters, were leery to participate. At the same time, there was a threat by Anonymous against the APD website that the City took seriously. The site was hacked, as promised. The called-for demonstration was mobile and boisterous, and it moved from the initial location downtown (at APD HQ) to the university area. (Un)Occupy was holding its weekly meeting in a park when police in riot gear suddenly appeared. Fearing for the safety of the crowd, members of (Un)Occupy became active in promoting non-violence, engaging with the crowd to negotiate safe space, and observing police activities. Other organizers also stepped in, due to livestream coverage.
The crowd moved again from the University area to downtown, then back and forth between the University and downtown over the course of almost 12 hours. The crowd changed in composition over the course of the day, at one point taking the freeway for a brief time. There were many young men, probably most participating in their first demonstration. Despite the lack of organization, they did remain largely non-violent, though there was graffiti, pole climbing and other behavior that was uncontrolled, making some observers uncomfortable.
The police wore extreme costumes, provided by grants from Homeland Security. There were police on horses, and the horses wore face and eye-guards in an effort to shield them from tear gas, which was deployed on at least 2 occasions in the evening, near the University and downtown. Some protesters wore Guy Fawkes masks and bandanas soaked in vinegar or water for protection. There was behavior indicating agitators and provocateurs. One man who showed up with a gun that may have been a paint gun or something more dangerous was sent packing by the crowd chanting, “Power people, not guns!” “You don’t speak for us!” “Go home!” His name and photo have been posted on line by activists.
The Mayor called it “mayhem.” Others used words like “violent,” “thugs” and “mob” to describe the crowd. There were 4 arrests, certainly not due to a lack of police presence. It was not a riot.
A community meeting to regroup and discuss next steps was quickly put together for the following evening. A crowd of over 150 was present, along with local media. The meeting was civil, with many expressing deep feelings of sadness that our community is in this mess, others calling for dialog and additional actions. Militarization of the police was discussed. A list of demands was made and 3 were singled out for immediate action.
Our stalwart legal observer said he had been called by the police who wanted to meet with a few people. That meeting happened immediately prior to another demonstration that did not see police in heavy gear as before, though tanks were staged. The most recent demonstration was also non-violent. Police support rallies have also been held and are pending.
The City Council cleared their agenda on Monday night to hear from the public about this crisis. Councilor Rey Garduno, who was gassed at the 2nd demonstration, organized a panel of 4 outstanding speakers who gave historical background to the current (actually on-going for decades) situation: a psychologist and academic who has contributed to several reports for the City on police violence and who presents her work across the country, the state chair of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a formerly homeless man, and a woman who emptied an enormous handbag full of prescriptions she takes for PTSD and other mental health conditions. Each panelist also had a family member killed or assaulted by APD or had been attacked themselves. The Council then listened to 5 hours of passionate comments by the public that ranged from outrage and tearful to thoughtful on how we can best address the problems with the police force. There were several who spoke in support of APD and individual officers.
Several legislators have weighed in about the mental healthcare crisis in New Mexico, which has worsened due to actions taken by the administration of Governor Susana Martinez. Last year after accusing almost every provider in the state of fraud, well-established mental health clinics across the state were closed, therapists were dismissed and care was outsourced to corporations from Arizona. No fraud has yet been proved, and the Arizona providers have laid off workers and cut staff due to (who could have possibly anticipated) a “lack of clients.”
At this time we will await the report of the DoJ and hope that our Council will quickly adopt all the recommendations of the Police Oversight Committee. Meanwhile, actions continue to be scheduled and people remain ready to mobilize until some change comes. I am sure there will be more to report.
And that, dinerzens, is today’s Over Easy. A fond shout-out to our beloved Southern Dragon, who would have been up for these events. Have a great morning! I have to run out in a while, but I will try to drop by for conversation, as I am able. Off-topic is always welcome at our little diner.
Late day edit: I am told the numbers of the 2nd demo (featured now at the top of the page video-THANK YOU mods!) are more likely 500-800 over the course of the day.