I don't know how much the local news gets into the national or international circuit, but events in my hometown have supposedly been drawing a lot of media attention. They have been here, anyway.
The Albuquerque Police Department has recently gotten itself into some trouble due to their absurd number of lethal shootings, the most egregious (but not the latest) one being the shooting of James Boyd, an extremely troubled man by all accounts who is probably the only homeless man in the entire history of Albuquerque to get a full-page biography in the city's paper.
The video, as was pointed out at a city council meeting, was released by the police because they felt it exonerated the officers involved. It doesn't really. It looks really bad. So bad that the video sparked protests.
On March 30th, I was sitting at the coffee shop on Central Avenue and Harvard Drive having a discussion with a Christian apologist over a "London Fog"- Earl Grey and steamed milk. The discussion was on the teleological argument and I had gotten off on a tangent about clocks on beaches when we were interrupted by the sound of honking cars about a block down, which would be the intersection of Central and Yale. From the coffee shop there's a lot of trees and sign posts in the way, so we couldn't see what was going on except that it involved police cars, shouting, and those car horns.
As a resident of a city, one not as peaceable as I would like, my first thought when hearing sirens is car accident, though a few years ago, sitting at the very table I was at on the 30th of March, I did see a S.W.A.T. team engaged a crazy fellow, but that's another story.
It soon became clear as traffic backed up, that the commotion was moving towards us. It's one thing to think about seeing a large scale protest, and another to witness it. Anonymous masks catch your attention first, even though there are aren't that many. There's something creepy about them that draws the eye. Then you notice the signs. Most of the signs on this day were variations on "APD: Guilty" and "PUNISH KILLER COPS". I wonder who makes those yellow protest signs. They always look professionally done, and I don't mean the ones people make from poster-board and magic marker, I mean the matte yellow and black ones that crop up in every protest picture I ever seen. Somebody is making a killing.
The next thing that draws the eye after the signs and masks are the people walking in the road. Central Avenue is the main road in Albuquerque. It used to be part of the main road across the USA, Route 66. So, to see people in the road walking against the traffic is disconcerting. The flow of cars were soon rerouted by the police, and the flow of people marched uninterrupted past the coffee shop.
There was a homeless man panhandling close by. The area is a popular place for panhandlers because of the University students who frequent the shops along Harvard. This homeless man, ragged with a ruined flannel shirt and a bushy salt and pepper beard, stood as the protesters went by joining with their yelling. While they were yelling things like "Down with APD!" he was shouting "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" not sure what the protest was about or why people were in the street, but happy to shout along with them.
The protest headed east and past us taking its sound with it and we returned to our discussion. About twenty minutes later the sounds started to return and the crowd began to trickle back along the street. Central at this point was completely shut down. Realizing that my car was on the wrong side of Central to get home, I ended up crashing at my girlfriend's apartment.
It's really not an apartment, it's more like a really shitty duplex. In the summer, the place heats up and can't be cooled down because whoever installed the ventilation did a crap job. It is however about two blocks from the University and thus wicked convenient as she pursues her degree.
The noise from Central was still clear from my girlfriend's place when I headed there at around four. She was under the weather. We thought it was either mono or strep, but later turned out to be neither. I fed her tea, talked about talking to the theist, as the ever present drone of helicopters, police sirens, and yelling filtered through two blocks of student ghetto came in clearly through the walls. At some point, I went to the internet to listen to APD's radio.
You can listen in on police department radio thanks to the magic of the internet. What surprised me is that it is a city wide network and that I could hear all police radio in the city. That's not just the force assigned to the protest, but also to every other part of the city. There was, for example, some guy who had trapped his roommates in their bedrooms and was trying to knock down their door. You get to hear a lot of 10-4s when you listen and other odd menial things like a police dispatch to help some lady get her toes out of a bathtub faucet. But I could also hear how the police reacted to the protesters, how fast they were able to move traffic barriers, where they were moving them, developing situations.
Around 9:30p with the protest still active, I began to hear a sound I can only describe as like a giant skateboard thundering toward the apartment. I couldn't identify the sound as I'd never heard anything like it. I went outside to look, and coming down the street was a full battalion (well maybe more like twenty) mounted officers. The sound I was hearing was the horse's hooves on the pavement. They were heading west and were followed by slow moving police cars, lights blazing. The procession took maybe 15 minutes to pass.
Horses are used for riot control, I dimly recalled. I'd never seen that many horses in my life.
But it didn't ever get to a riot. Around 12, the police, (this is according to the Albuquerque Journal) dispersed the remaining crowd with tear gas and a show of force, though by that point the protest was ending. Nobody was killed, there were no injuries, and very little vandalism. I do note that this is not what the national media reported or what was reported outside of Albuquerque in the greater New Mexico media. My girlfriend's parents live in Los Alamos and were under the impression that the protesters sacked downtown.
On April 7th, the city council held a meeting which was from 5 to 11 pm open to public comments about the police force. The comments took up all of the meeting time and featured many, many people from all parts of Albuquerque. There were one or two people in the comments who defended the police, but many more who had critical things to say. The comments were limited to two minutes unless the council granted the speaker more time or had questions. As in all open meetings a few crazy people came up and rambled, but on the whole everybody had interesting and relevant things to say. Public speaking is difficult and people who are suddenly on a mic in front of a polished wood desk with the city's leaders often trip up and most of what I saw was a lot of nervous people trying to gather their thoughts on a serious issue.
That following Thursday, the Department of Justice released its findings in its investigation of APD. The investigation had been going on before the protests and the timely release is probably more because of a push from the mayor.
And oh boy. The findings are damning. I read the whole thing and couldn't believe what I was reading. Example: APD stops a man riding a bike. This man ran a stop sign. The officers proceed to beat him. Another example: APD is called to a house where a man has doused himself in gasoline. APD arrives on the scene to find the man freaking out in a gasoline soaked living room. Unable to calm the man down, APD proceeds to try to subdue him with tasers. Now, I knew this, and I suspect you know this, but APD didn't know this: When you taze a man soaked in gasoline you're going to set him on fire. Third example: APD is called to a situation where a suicidal man is threatening to kill himself. APD solves his problem and shoots him to death.
I caught sight of an article through Google News. It's titled "The other side of the Albuquerque Debate", or something like that. The article is about the people who are defending APD and who say that APD is doing a good job "no matter what others may say". This is, um, how to put this? Over representing a small group of Albuquerque's population mainly consisting of police family members and the type of folks who would side with the police even if APD were breaking into people's homes and sodomizing them.
The attitude of the counter-protest is very much a "Why are people against the police! The city is violent! Next time somebody breaks into your home, you solve it yourself! Everybody is attacking the police!" I don't find these objections very valid. I can't help but wonder if the pro-police side thinks the citizenry is criticizing the police just to be mean. An Albuquerque Journal poll suggests that only 36% of Albuquerque's population has confidence in the police. That's not an insignificant number. And it's also important to note that this distrust of police has been growing over the years. It did not start with the shooting of James Boyd, but was built up overtime and many, many police failings. People say that we shouldn't blame the good cops and that it is a few "bad apples" (the term bad apples keeps being used by commentators) who are ruining the department. I don't think it is that simple. I have a theory that anybody put into a bad situation with inadequate training is going to screw up and that this is likely a top down problem. I do feel sorry for Police Chief Eden who simply inherited a bad situation. He'll likely be fired and he hasn't been around long enough to enact any change.
As strange as it is to say, I think one of the solutions is to give the police department more money. More money for training, oversight programs, and salaries. That's not the only solution, of course, because this problem is complicated. It can't be solved overnight, because it did not occur overnight. But now that the civic government sees that the public won't put up with APD's bad behavior anymore, things will start rolling.
Or you could be a cynic. I suppose.
I got a Shakespearean Insult t-shirt for my birthday. Strange how my English degree seems to compel people to buy me English Nerd paraphernalia that I would never buy myself.
birthday past/birthday future