Sunday, September 20, 2015

Tenten



I recorded the video above last night outside the Embassy Suites in Albuquerque. It's part of the talk by Corrina ("Tenten") Shoemaker, the sister of Victor Villalpando, a youth shot and killed by Espanola, NM, police a year ago last June. I had just heard about Victor's killing when I headed out that day to a meeting to discuss a protest march planned for later in June to highlight the continued police killings in Albuquerque and elsewhere despite the scathing DoJ report on the city's pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing.

When I heard about Victor's death, I was shocked. At the time, it was not at all clear what had happened. There were news stories that the boy had threatened the police with a gun, and thus he "needed killing," but there was something clearly off about that. We hear those kinds of stories in the aftermath of police shootings all the time, and very often they later turn out to be untrue. There were stories that someone had called police from a fast-food joint in Espanola saying there was a young male outside waving a gun around. Then there were stories that Villalpando himself had been the caller. Thus, in some people's eyes, this was clearly an incident of "suicide by cop." The video of the killing itself, however, showed that that wasn't the case. The video showed him attempting to flee when he was shot and killed. He was not threatening the police in any way. Nevertheless, the Rio Arriba County grand jury ruled the homicide "justified" because Villalpando was "armed" with a cap gun, and how were the police to know it wasn't real?

Perhaps Victor lacked wisdom, but since when is a sixteen year old expected to be wiser than the supposed adults, like the police involved in his killing?

There was a march last evening in Albuquerque to protest -- yet again -- the city's hosting of what I call the Killer Kop Kompetition, an elaborate, multi-day shooting contest by Albuquerque's and the nation's "finest."

 Last year's Killer Kop Kompetition was won, we were told, by an APD officer who would later go on to some notoriety when he shot and severely wounded an undercover officer engaged in a drug sting. The shooter was the supervisor...  It was quite a remarkable situation and starkly demonstrated how trigger-happy and out of control APD's officers had become. On the other hand, it was one of very few police involved shootings by APD after July of 2014 when such shootings -- once commonplace -- came to an abrupt halt. At least for several months, there were no killings by APD.

Then, the day after the shooting of the undercover officer by his supervisor, John Okeefe was shot and killed by APD after a foot chase down an alley. The police claimed that Okeefe was shooting at them, and a stolen revolver was recovered at the scene beside Okeefe's body. The revolver, it turned out, had been stolen from the home of a sheriff's deputy a few days before, a factoid that set off an alarm bell or two among police-watchers, as did the fact that this killing took place almost coincidentally with the shooting of an undercover cop by his supervisor ("Ooops!") and the announcement that Dominque Perez and Keith Sandy, the killers of James Boyd, were being charged with Murder 2 by the Bernalillo County DA.

A lot of threads were woven together in last night's march and protest. Initially, I didn't intend to march with the rest of the protesters as I am still kind of lame from the episode of sciatica almost two years ago now. The march route was said to be a mile and a half through downtown Albuquerque, but it looked farther than that to me, and the tail end of it was uphill. I don't do uphill well at all.

Nonetheless, when I heard Victor Villalpando's mother and sister talk to the assembly prior to the march, I knew I had to go on the march with the rest, no matter whatever difficulty in doing so I might encounter. I'm glad I did.

The march was one of the most orderly protests I think I've ever been involved in. There were perhaps 100 or so participants, no police escort -- and if there were undercover officers seeded among the marchers, I didn't notice any. We marched in the street or on the sidewalk, depending on the preference of individual marchers. I carried the "Abolish Police Departments" sign -- in part because I am an abolitionist rather than a reformer these days (I've done my time as a police reformer... and found the results to be.... less than I had hoped.)

Signs prior to the march

Medics on foot and on bikes accompanied the march, and monitors with caution tape controlled the traffic while the marchers passed. Many, many drivers honked their support for the marchers. There were water stations set up along the route, and the medics distributed water to anyone who asked. Organizers let people know what was going on and how the march would proceed. Everyone felt comfortable and protected. It was the formation of a spontaneous community, something that will become increasingly necessary as the efforts to end violent policing continue.

While the uphill climb to the Embassy Suites was a bit tough for me, I made it, and the sunset view from the top of the ridge was spectacular. (I wanted to capture it in paint or pastel, and I still may try... the art-part of my life coming close to an obsession these days...)

As we reached the turn into the hotel driveway, a couple of bicycle officers appeared to help with traffic control. They were the first uniformed officers we had seen, even as we marched past the sheriff's and police departments downtown. These bicycle officers together with some other uniformed APD officers would form a phalanx protecting the lobby of the hotel from the protest rabble outside.

After reading the names of the dead at the hands of APD ("Presente!") about half the marchers made their way toward the lobby of the hotel. Access was denied. However, during the protest, a number of the participants in the shooting competition came out to observe the proceedings, and one even had himself photographed with the protesters.

Tenten wanted to talk to a police-officer competitor and to anyone associated with Embassy Suites, but the police inside were too afraid of her, and the hotel refused to send out a representative (at least this was my impression from observations and talking with some of the participants.)  Eventually, an APD officer (along with a backup officer "just in case") spoke with Tenten outside the lobby, but nothing was resolved. My video above starts just after the APD officers retreated back to the lobby.

Fear. The officers were so frightened... I call them cowards. They see the public -- at least an expressive portion of the public -- as their enemies, and they live in constant mortal fear of those enemies, and so they lash out, sometimes murderously, when confronted with protest, demands, or disobedience.

Last night, for the most part, they hid.

There was no hint of violence within the crowd of protesters last night, but at one point I was told that the officers inside the hotel were demanding that the protesters pledge to be "peaceful" if they wanted to speak to an officer inside. It was a ludicrous demand given the nature of the event being protested, but it was an example of kind of fear the police have of any expression of public outrage at their behavior. The same fear is seen among the occupying armies of our nation's vast overseas imperial adventures. It's inculcated from the top down.

Ultimately, the point was made -- that this competition is an insult to the many hundreds, indeed thousands of dead at the hands of police, and it is not wanted in the city of Albuquerque, not after everything that has happened, the piles of dead bodies, the protests, the pain and the outrage.

Victor Villalpando's sister and mother brought those points home to me more strongly than I think I have felt them up to now, and I've been involved in the protests against violent policing for many a long year.

We marched back to Robinson Park in the downtown area, and I slowed down the closer we got. A kind driver asked if I'd like a ride for the last few blocks, and I said yes. Well, I coulda made it on my own, but it would have taken me probably another half hour or so. Had a great talk with the driver, Sara Ruth (I think), someone who feels like I do that the context of policing, the culture, and the behavior of police must change or be abolished.


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