Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Another Police Killing in Albuquerque -- And the People Rise Up

Idyllic Nature, So Close to Texas, Yet So Far From God

Over the weekend, tragedy stalked the mean streets of Albuquerque once again.

Well, it was a quiet street in a relatively new suburban enclave on the West Side, Ventana Ranch. It's not the kind of place where police shootings typically occur in Albuquerque, though it's not unknown for residential areas to erupt in gunfire.

Armand Martin was shot to death by a police sniper after a lengthy stand off with the police SWAT team at his home Saturday evening. His wife had called 911 earlier in the day when she said her husband had threatened her with a gun and she didn't feel safe. She left the home and sought shelter elsewhere while the police dealt with her diagnosed mentally ill husband by all their usual "negotiating tactics" -- including smoke grenades, tear gas, flash bangs, and snipers.

Some neighbors were appalled and disgusted. Others, of course, applauded the efforts of police to keep them safe.

The late Armand Martin was a retired Air Force colonel who had apparently not seen combat, but who had been diagnosed with mental health issues and was -- supposedly -- being treated for them at the VA hospital in town, where he was also apparently employed as an administrator. To the extent the story has been pieced together, at any rate, he was apparently subject to periodic crises, including suicidal crises, though he wasn't reputed to be particularly violent when in crisis. What his treatment consisted of is not known at this point, though he is said to have been taking medication for depression.

The dead man is said to have barricaded himself in his home after his wife and children left for safety elsewhere. He called KOB, one of the local television stations, during the time he was under the guns of the police SWAT detail, about two hours before he was killed, and told them he had had a fight with his wife, that he'd closed all the curtains and had weapons. "He also claimed the police were going to shoot him," KOB's spokesperson said.

Well, he was right about that. The police inexplicably ordered KOB to stop talking to Martin. According to the La Jicarita news site:
A man identifying himself as Martin’s brother Tommy called KOB later saying “My brother has told me too many bad things about police shooting people down there. I don’t know, right now I’m scared for my brother to go outside.” In addition he told KOB that his brother had guns but he didn’t think his brother knew where to find ammunition.
Yes, well. Wouldn't that be the case, then?

We should understand that the some of the aspects of the Wild West still pertain to these parts, and many New Mexicans are gun-crazy. Citizens have guns in abundance, and they are sometimes equipped with side arms when they go to town; I think practically all of our neighbors are armed, and for it is claimed that no one lives in the country without "personal protection." They have guns in their homes, long guns, automatics, pistols, what have you. They keep guns in their vehicles. Of course, that means criminals are armed, too. And so are the police.

With all these guns in evidence, everywhere, it's probably a wonder that there are fewer shootings and shoot outs than there are. At least in the Wild West of yore, sheriffs knew that the plethora of guns themselves were a big part of the problem, and getting control of civilian weaponry was part of the process of "taming" the Wild West. I'm not sure that such "taming" ever happened here.

At any rate, Martin's brother wasn't sure that Martin had access to ammunition, which, if true, would make the guns he had at his home more symbolic -- and symptomatic -- weaponry than actual lethal weapons, no?

The police have made a lot of unsupported claims about the "shootout" with Martin on Saturday, including their belief that he fired at police before they shot him dead at the front entrance to his home.

There are no witnesses who will confirm that it is so. According to La Jicarita:
There were no eyewitnesses to confirm that Martin fired at APD. One eyewitness told the press he thought Martin was pointing the gun at himself. Police initially lied to neighbors, telling them that SWAT didn’t shoot Martin but rather took him into custody. 
Oh, right, about that dead man? Just a misunderstanding.

The police claim they will release lapel camera footage today to confirm their version of the facts. Everyone is waiting with bated breath.

The police claim they sent a crisis intervention team to negotiate with Martin before they shot him dead.

According to La Jicarita:
An APD spokesperson said APD used crisis intervention teams and negotiators, but according to neighbors and eyewitnesses, that negotiation included shouting over loudspeakers, firing flashbang grenades into windows, swarming armed military-equiped officers throughout the neighborhood for hours and placing a sniper on one neighbor’s roof.

No one believes the police. They lie routinely. And when they engage in "shootouts" with suspects, they lie about those encounters as a matter of honor and pride, or so it seems. I cannot count the number of times they have claimed this or that "fact" about a shootout or a suspect who's been shot dead that later turns out to be... false.

La Jicarita further reported:

In its press statement, APD did not report that Martin exited the house only after a SWAT grenade attack. Neighbors reported that APD fired three flashbang grenades into the house just prior to 6:16 PM. One neighbor told a La Jicarita reporter: “They were all camped out there. That’s what we saw for hours on end. It was military-style. Oh, and the flashbangs that were going off. It was scary. We went up into my neighbor’s house and we saw the flashbangs, they blew out all the windows.”

Yes, so typical.

Since the release of the scathing DoJ report criticizing APD for unwarranted use of force, unconstitutional policing and manifest institutional and systemic failures, it appears that they have actually increased their rate of killing, almost as an act of defiance, to demonstrate their ultimate power or something.


¡No F-ing Más!

Last night, after a series of strategy meetings, the people who have been protesting the use of lethal force by police had had enough and they took action. They went down to City Hall, assembled in the City Council chambers, and shut the City Council meeting down. They then created a "People's Council" which passed resolutions condemning the recent spate of officer involved shootings and calling for the arrest of the Police Chief and the removal of the Mayor.

The police chief and his body guards skittered away before the "people's arrest warrant" could be served on him, and the Mayor (of course) was not in attendance. He never attends. He doesn't believe it's his job. The Councilors expressed frustration,  not with the police but with the crowd who took over, and a statement was issued by the Chief's Office to the effect that such actions by the public are "not helpful."

What's "not helpful" is the constant and statistically increasing gunfire from police.  Putting a stop to it, apparently by whatever means necessary, is now the public objective. The public has no confidence that the police are capable of reforming themselves, whether they are under DoJ supervision or not.

The fact that the shootings continue unabated -- in fact, at an increasing rate since the shooting of James Boyd in the Sandia foothills on March 16 which precipitated the latest round of protest actions -- despite the DoJ's clear and unambiguous statements about the unjustified use of force by APD is seen as simply a defiant slap in the face to the public and the Department of Justice by an out of control, militarized, and deeply dysfunctional police department.

This has to stop. CEASE FIRE!

The people will not sit down, the people will not shut up, and the people will not tolerate the continued death and defiance by the APD.

The people have demonstrated that they can essentially shut down the city, pretty much whenever they want to. The Powers That Be continue to spin their wheels while people are dying in their midst, shot to death by the APD, which those same Powers appear to have no control over whatever.

Armand Martin, like so many others who've been killed by the APD, should not have died by police gunfire like he did. On the other hand, he probably shouldn't have had weapons at his disposal, he should have had accessible and effective treatment for his mental health issues, and if his wife and children felt threatened by his behavior, they should have had accessible alternatives to calling 911 for assistance, since the 911 protocols require sending SWAT teams and extensive police firepower any time callers report being threatened with a gun.

The fact is, there are too few alternatives available to citizens in crisis, there are too few alternatives available to police, and the civic power structure, such as it is, doesn't really give a shit. They'll keep on keeping on just as long as they can, but the signs the signs are they can't for very much longer.

Too many forces are marshaling against the status quo.

Too many have died, too much blood has been spilled, too many incidents have been swept away, too many lies, too many protests, too many distractions.

The people of Albuquerque have had enough.

(h/t LeMoyne at FDL)

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