Thursday, May 1, 2014

Policing the Policing Crisis in Albuquerque

[On the way to the meeting yesterday, I passed a wreck in the middle of an intersection. A motorcycle lay mangled in the road, ambulances were assembled, and there were at least half a dozen police engaged with traffic control and assisting the injured. It was a common enough scene in Albuquerque -- as the "best drivers" tend to congregate here -- but it was in stark contrast to the generally negative view so many people have of the APD. Just wanted to make that note...]

The Department of Justice released a scathing report on the unconstitutional policing practices of the Albuquerque Police Department on April 10, and ever since there have been numerous community meetings and actions to attempt to address those findings and rein in a police department that has become a militarized gang -- or at least has been perceived as one by large parts of the Albuquerque community.

Perhaps the most poignant moment of last night's meeting came at the end, when the 6 year old nephew of Kendall Carroll -- shot to death by a State Police sniper, but fired on by APD -- got up before the stragglers in the audience and said very simply: "Why did they shoot my uncle?"

His mother, Kendall Carroll's sister, testified earlier that her she and her son were traumatized by what had happened that afternoon, that they would never get over it, and her son was terrified of police, and he shouldn't be, no one should be. She said, "They shot the wrong brother, and they don't care. It's nothing to them." She wore a hoodie with the bold statement on the back, "Fuck the APD." Her brother was shot and killed by NM State Police sniper Shane Todd, who would later be deployed not far from my own home out in the country where he shot and killed Ernest Attebery who was alleged to have exchanged gunfire with police, but who it was later determined had not fired on police. I understand better now why even the sheriff of the county, who believed the situation was under control, was shocked that the State Police sniper had killed the suspect. Just as Kendall Carroll's family is still in shock that the same sniper killed "the wrong brother" in Albuquerque in March of 2013.

Half the country is asking "What in the world is going on out there?"

Good question.

There is no simple answer. Attempts have been made for decades to get control of the slaughter by local police, but all have so far failed. Those who seek simple answers say it is all about race, and it isn't. There is a racial component in that the poor, the homeless, and the underserved mentally ill fall victim to policing practices that lead to their deaths, and in Albuquerque, like most other cities, the poor, the homeless and the underserved mentally ill are disproportionately from minority communities. But racism and racial profiling are not the sole motivation -- nor, in my view, are they even the major motivation -- for the bloody record of the APD and other NM police forces.

No, there's something else going on.

Some of those who testified last night pointed to what it may be.

For one thing, the mayor does not attend these meetings, nor does he attend City Council meetings. Two members of the council did attend last night, at least for a while, but the mayor's priorities do not include -- and apparently have never included -- dealing with the public or even hearing the public on matters of police abuse and murder as detailed by the hundreds who have attended these and other meetings and who have marched and protested the continued use of deadly force by APD.

"He doesn't care."

Mayor Richard Berry has long defended the APD's policies and use of deadly force, and he did so right up to the shocking execution of James Boyd in the Sandia foothills. That incident, in which a mentally disturbed individual was shot six times in the back as he was surrendering, was then shot three more times with beanbags as he lay bleeding out on the ground, and then was attacked repeatedly by a police dog before he died, seemed to momentarily alert Berry to the fact that there might actually be something wrong with APD's policies and practices.

He called the Boyd shooting a "game changer."

Protests mounted, but the shooting and killing went on, and finally, the DoJ report was issued, condemning the APD for its pattern of actions which clearly violated the Constitution and which required immediate remedy.

But the shooting and killing still goes on.

Nothing seems to stop it, and the mayor doesn't honestly seem to care at all. Nor does the police chief.

If they did, the shooting and the killing might have been significantly reduced or stopped altogether long ago.

But instead, it continues, as if nothing has changed, no DoJ report had been issued condemning the actions of the APD, no protests had taken place, no world wide revulsion at what has been going on in Albuquerque for years had arisen.

Nothing seems to have penetrated the shells of denial and disinterest of Albuquerque's powers that be.

Even when one of their own children is killed by police, they don't seem to care. Not enough, at any rate, to penetrate their denial and demand change.

During the meeting yesterday, I was sitting next to a woman whose grandson had been shot and killed by police in Los Lunas a few days before; in 1988 her nephew had been shot and killed by Albuquerque police. Both, she said, had suffered from PTSD -- a common enough complaint among those gathered to hear one another's testimony -- and neither deserved to be killed.

She struck me as a level-headed, heavy-hearted grandmother as so many of the speakers last night did. Even the younger speakers were so very heavy of heart for having lost a loved one or having been subjected to police abuse and misconduct, whether simply being intimidated by officers' rage and threats, or being bludgeoned or gassed or injured and trussed up while medical care was denied.

One man spoke eloquently of his son, a military veteran and victim of PTSD, who had been shot in the arm by a drive-by assailant -- an assailant known to both the police and the victim. When assistance was called for, medical aid was denied to the shooting victim by the police. Even family members who tried to render aid were forbidden to do so and one was arrested for trying.

The assailant was identified but never charged. The man wondered if his son had been targeted for death by the police.

And so it was with so many. They were sad, they were angry, they were frightened, they were determined.

Even if they hadn't lost a loved one to police violence, they knew, they knew. They felt the pain, they felt the loss of those who did.

One of the organizers of the protests and a major factor in the entire endeavor to bring the APD to account, DinahVargas, explained how she had become radicalized toward police violence. She said she'd only known what she saw on the teevee, and every time the police shot someone, she noticed that there was an almost immediate campaign of vilification and demonization by the police and the media regarding whoever had been shot this time. They were always "druggies with long criminal records and tattoos," and she said she thought, "Wait, I have tattoos..." And she went to a protest and she got to know some of the people who'd been shot or abused by the police or whose loved ones had been killed, and she realized they were mostly just ordinary people who'd been caught up in madness, and she knew it was wrong, it couldn't be right. These were her friends and neighbors, her own family, her grandparents, herself. They weren't demons, they were people. They were people who'd been horribly abused and some had been killed by members of a police department which never, ever found any of the killings unjustified.


But it's more than just the police. It's an entire governing system and a system of authority in which accountability for actions is only valid downward. A police review commission was established, and when they tried to do some independent investigations to find out basic information about police abuse in Albuquerque, they were thwarted at every turn by the City Attorney and the District Attorney who told them quite simply that they didn't have any authority but to agree with the police's own investigations.

The Mayor, the City Administrator and the Police Chief are notorious for stonewalling, lying, sidestepping, and avoiding anything to do with police accountability.

The power structure of Albuquerque clearly likes things just the way they are and will resist any effort to change. 

The DoJ held these meetings in order to assemble public input to use in a consent decree by which the City and the APD would agree to certain specific reforms and a timetable for their accomplishment.

Many of those at the meeting have long insisted that the only way to accomplish real and lasting reform is to put APD under direct DoJ supervision, and to replace all the current brass -- and to jail those officers who have used egregious deadly force.

V. B. Price has suggested the only way forward may be to abolish APD and start over (a suggestion I tend to think is correct, but one that is unlikely to get anywhere.)

Too many people have been hurt too badly for too long for the situation to become stable as is. There is a movement afoot to recall the mayor and the district attorney and to fire the Independent Review Officer of the Police Oversight Commission. The commission itself has essentially disbanded as it's seen its efforts consistently interfered with by the Mayor's Office and the City Attorney.

Yet the killing goes on -- and on and on.

The killing goes on because the powers that be want it that way. Their minds must be changed for an effective change to occur in the Albuquerque Police Department.

Until that happens, we're going to be subject to a continuation of the Wild West mentality, where anything goes -- until a stop is put to it.
Some resources:

October 22 Coaliton Photos

Life in Albuquerque: Another Police Shooting, Another Community Meeting, Another Candlelight Vigil

From 2012 -- Rally Against Police Violence  (These people are still vital to the movement.)

Dispatches from the DoJ Meetings Part 2 (Brief description of the meeting I attended)

V. B. Price: Unconstitutional


  1. words fail. almost too heart-piercing this is, chéPasa.

    miz rock

    1. I'm still shaken by the testimony I heard and the genuine, heart-felt honesty of those I met last night.

      I just wish I could do more...