Sunday, May 11, 2014

Thursday's Special Meeting of the Albuquerque City Council

Video of some of the silent protest at Albuquerque City Council's Special Meeting Thursday, May 8, 2014, video from Albuquerque Journal

I made the grievous and rather silly error the other day of watching the archived video of the infamous Monday, May 5, 2014, (Cinco de Mayo, no?) take-over of the Albuquerque City Council meeting and writing about it as if it were taking place live. Mea maxima culpa, but that's what happens as I try to juggle too many things, and in the process make too many assumptions about what is going on.

I watched much of Thursday's special meeting of the Albuquerque City Council -- called to make up for the aborted Monday meeting -- live as it happened, and I've now seen quite a lot of video from both the Monday and Thursday meetings, and I've got to say, parts are as deeply moving as anything I've seen in civic affairs.

No, to be completely honest, I've never seen anything quite so moving in my long experience with city council meetings, most of which I've found to be boring as sin, deceptively manipulated by staff, and minor opportunities for electeds to grandstand on matters they really don't care about at all.

When the public tries to use the mechanism of the city council to make major -- or even minor -- changes in the way the city operations are conducted (for example, by attempts to curb the outrageous behavior of the police) city staff will routinely subvert and interfere with those efforts, leaving both the council and the public wondering what just happened. I've seen it time after time in California, and I've witnessed the same dynamic in Albuquerque.

But something different has been going on through the long years of public advocacy of reform of the APD. For years, there wasn't much progress, or rather what progress there was amounted to eyewash -- the typical subversion tactic of city staff -- with no substantive power or point.

In Albuquerque, the situation deteriorated rather than improved, and between 2010 and now, dozens have been shot and killed by Albuquerque police, seemingly at a greater rate since the DoJ issued its scathing report on the matter than before it.

The public crisis of confidence in the police is mirrored by the internal crisis within the APD. The two have waltzed hand in hand for years, but now it's reached the point where something must be done, for the current status quo is unsustainable.

The fact is that the police are killing people they shouldn't even be shooting, and they've been getting away with it in the face of growing public outrage and opposition. The notorious video of the summary execution in March of James Boyd, a homeless, mentally ill camper in the Sandia foothills, touched such a nerve in the community that opposition swelled to a level that it could not be ignored any further, could not be shunted to the side, could not be treated with disdain, and the victims could no longer be held entirely to blame for their own fate. Things had gone too far.

The protest movement grew by leaps and bounds, and street protests involving hundreds or thousands were complemented by Anonymous's -- the international "hacker" consortium -- calls for protest demonstrations and attacks on the city and police internet presence, constant vigils at sites of police killings, and more and more calls for action by city officials to curb the killing spree the police were on. Calls increased for their resignation and indictment if they continued to refuse to act.

Finally, the DoJ's scathing report on APD misconduct and misuse of lethal force was issued. It didn't stop the killing spree, however. Far from it.

No, instead, the killing spree goes on at an even greater rate than before, as if the very fact that so many people are pointing out how wrong it all is inspires the police to even greater levels of carnage and bloodshed.

Nobody calls for a cease fire.

Or if they do, the calls go unheeded.

And yet the killing must stop and it will. For now, the police are resisting any reform or accountability and claiming that their union contract prohibits any policy changes they don't agree with; since they refuse to agree to any reforms or accountability, there won't be any. That's basically been their stance throughout the uproar and outrage -- for decades.

Yes, this has been going on for decades. Some date the beginning of the modern police killing spree to the Roosevelt Park Riots of 1971, others point it actually began well before that, and protests have been taking place since the 1960's. "Reforms" aplenty have been proposed and supposedly implemented, but none have been effective. The police defy any effort at reform they don't wish to follow. And they almost always get away with it.

Why? Of course, there is plenty of culpability and complicity at the highest levels of civic authority. No one has shown less interest in real reform than the current Mayor, Richard Berry, or the current Chief Administrative Officer, Robert Perry, whose authority in the matter is significant, but who are fundamentally aligned with interests who see the problem from the point of view of those who desire the suppression of inconvenient or undesirable portions of the population and find that killing them is a good way to dispose of troublesome members of the community, and an excellent way of terrorizing survivors into compliance. They've been fine with the killing spree all along. It's never bothered them in the least.

Even when it sometimes hits close to home. Some of those who have been killed by APD are relatives of reasonably prominent people, including judges and civic/county executive staff. Others are simply ordinary people trying to get by as best they can. Still others are members of designated out groups -- homeless, mentally ill, vagabonds, brown or black "gang" members, drug users and abusers, and various other kinds of outlaws. In other words, people who obviously "need killing" in the lexicon of the Wild West.

Poverty, homelessness, drug abuse, petty criminality and mental illness are common -- but by no means universal -- attributes among the victims. They're so common as to be expected. Among the common attributes of the police who are so quick on the trigger is a culture of impunity and dishonesty. That culture goes right to the top, and though it is not universal, it is so common as to be expected.

Killing the victims is considered to be an effective means of "human waste disposal," as one killer-cop described his job on some social media.  Who is he performing that job for? Though he may identify strongly with the ones to whom he renders service, I wonder if it ever dawned on him that he is just as "disposable" in the eyes of the ones he serves.

Tens of millions of dollars have been paid out in settlements on behalf of citizens who have been killed or abused by Albuquerque police, and there is no end in sight to the payouts. It's one of the stranger aspects of the issue in that city officials by and large don't consider the expense to the to the taxpayers for police misconduct to be of much concern. Apparently, they see it as just a cost of doing business, whereas the $130,000 or so the city claims it cost in bond market basis points for the uproar that shut down the city council meeting last Monday was treated as if it were the most horrendous and momentous matter in the history of the city (and that's only a slight exaggeration.) The absurdity and upside down priority is grotesque.

I have no doubt that the demonstrations and protests will continue until there is significant, positive change in the way the city operates its police department. The people involved know what they are doing and they are relentless.

They've been at it a long time and they are close to success achieving important objectives. But they've made very clear that they're in this for the long haul, on behalf of Americans in general. Police misconduct and misuse of lethal force is a national epidemic. They're hoping, as I hope, that the resolution in Albuquerque will serve as a model for police reform and future conduct throughout the country.

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