UPDATE: Halfway through April 1st, and a week after the first demonstration, yet another victim has been shot in the head by a U.S. Marshall.
The streets of Albuquerque are on fire. Gunfire, by way of the police, that is. And streets afire with demos calling the cops to account.
Since early 2010, the Albuquerque police have shot and killed 23 people – an especially high number for a city of about 500,000 people. There have also been more than a dozen non-fatal shootings over the same time span. With mistrust of law enforcement already running high, the March 16 shooting of James M. Boyd galvanized hundreds of citizens to take to the streets over this past weekend.
Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man with a history of mental health issues, was shot and killed by an Albuquerque police officer. Boyd, who had been illegally camping in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains on the east side of Albuquerque, was shot because he was holding knives, according to Albuquerque Police Chief Gordon Eden. But police released helmet camera footage (warning: the footage is graphic) from the shooting last week that showed Boyd turning away from officers just before they opened fire.
The killings include:
•Jan. 9, 2010 APD. Aaron Renfro
•Jan. 13, 2010. Kenneth Ellis III
• March 29, 2010. Mickey Owings
• June 10, 2010. Chris Hinz
• June 14, 2010. Julian Calbert
• July 27, 2010. Len Fuentes
• August 17, 2010. Enrique Carrasco
• October 19, 2010. Daniel Gonzales
• October 31, 2010. Alexei Sinkevitch
• February 9, 2011. Jacob Mitschelen
• April 12, 2011. Christopher Torres
• May 10, 2011. Alan Gomez
• June 4, 2011. Raymond Garcia
• August 30, 2011. Michael Marquez
• January 4, 2012. Mark Macoldowna
• March 19, 2012. Daniel Tillison
• March 21, 2012. Gary Atencio
• March 5, 2013. Parrish Dennison
• March 19, 2013. Kendall Carroll
• July 5, 2013. Vincent Wood
• October 26, 2013. Christopher Chase
• December 8, 2013. Andy Snider
• March 16, 2014. James Boyd
• March 25, 2014. Alfred Redwine
Tensions between citizens and police were stoked further when the APD announced a new training program earlier this month, which critics say will further emphasize the use of force.
In justifying the new program, New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Director Jack Jones said,
Evil has come to the state of New Mexico. Evil has come to the Southwest. Evil has come to the United States.
Protesters marched the 2 miles from downtown Albuquerque to the University of New Mexico, holding signs protesting police violence. The Albuquerque Journal posted live updates from the protests on Sunday, documenting how the protest began quite peacefully before the confrontation between riot police and protesters eventually became physical. After protesters ignored police orders to disperse, Riot-gear clad officers responded with tear gas and several protesters were arrested. Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry later said that protesters had thrown rocks at police and said a police officer was injured, though he didn’t provide any details about the injury. At least six people were arrested.
Hours after the protest, police shot another Albuquerque resident dead.
Calls to Action, Led by Hacktivists?
Was this uprising sparked by “hacktivists” as a response to Boyd's death? The mainstream press is reporting as much, and concordantly peppering words like "mayhem" and "rioting" throughout their coverage.
One video, identified with the logo of the hacktivist group Anonymous, popped up on YouTube threatening to launch a cyber attack on the city’s websites. It also urged residents to “occupy” police headquarters. (Check out the Anonymous call to action, and their new list of demands.)
Police in Albuquerque said their site had been hacked and taken offline for several hours on Sunday. The official sites for the City of Albuquerque and its police department were working on Monday afternoon, although the police department’s Facebook and Twitter pages remained down.
We're guessing that, as was the case with Occupy Wall Street, online activists were only able to make such a stink because of the hard work of hundreds of long-time activists toiling away, long before the Anonymous call to action.
What Happened in the Albuquerque (Abq) Streets, According to Longtime Abq Activists:
As Sayrah Namaste, of (Un)Occupy Abq, explained: "We have a vibrant movement of activists in this town. Burquenos and Nuevo Mexicanos are very independent and well connected. We only have 2 million people in our state, 800, 000 in Albuquerque (Abq). The joke here is that we are all primos (cousins). We are also segregated in Abq between Nuevo Mexicanos and transplants and this divide is seen by race/class and currently who is doing what against APD. (So) about the kind of community we have here... I could go on and on about it...I'm very proud and grateful for the community of activists. We are just fiercely independent people who have been in this fight a long time and plan to be here for the long haul since we live here. We want hacktavists as our allies. We've asked the hacktavists to support local leadership and they've expressed that is what they intend."
Of the first large-scale demonstration, on Tuesday, Namaste said: "Every kind of person was there, including middle class and state senators and city councilors and activists and families of those killed, etc. Then there was the protest Sunday called by Anonymous." Most longtime grassroots activists didn't attend initially, however "when the riot police showed up, those activists jumped in and did a tremendous amount of work, time and resources to keep it nonviolent including lots of work to prevent APD from shooting."
Hundreds of Burqueños took to the streets of Albuquerque for more than 11 hours to nonviolently protest the violence by the Albuquerque Police Department. Two things about the night were amazing: how long the protesters held the streets—more than 11 hours—with not an act of violence (albeit yelling, some vandalism, and throwing donuts at cops); and the massive show of militarized police responding to the nonviolent protesters, including more than 40 riot police units from Albuquerque and nearby Rio Rancho, SWAT, armed personnel vehicles with paramilitary type police, K9 units, helicopters, undercover cops and unmarked police cars. People were teargassed and maced—including bystanders in parking lots who were not in the streets but had canisters lobbed at them.
The protesters started at Albuquerque Police Department headquarters at 12noon. Some family members of police victims were there, including a young mother of 3 whose husband was killed and a young woman whose brother was killed by APD. The crowd then took over several lanes of Central (the busiest street in town) and marched up towards the University of New Mexico.
The local (Un)Occupy Albuquerque was meeting at Yale Park at UNM on Central for their weekly General Assembly, discussing coalition building among anti-police brutality activists and demands when suddenly the riot police arrived at about 2:30pm to use the same place as their staging area for the arriving protestors. The protesters surrounded a police SUV at Yale & Central, and members of (Un)Occupy grabbed their phone cameras and began filming the riot police and yelling at them:
“We are filming you! We have the right to peacefully protest!” etc....
That seemed to startle the riot police. A few of the cops shoved protestors with their batons but quickly saw the number of people filming them and stopped and called for back up. Some protesters yelled and cursed at the cops, others kept chanting about their right to protest.
For hours, the protesters moved around the city from the university to downtown areas, and even briefly blocked the I-25 freeway. Much of it was live-streamed and tweeted. By sunset, the protesters broke into 2 groups, one that assembled on Central in front of the University and blocked traffic and another which went downtown to the Albuquerque Police headquarters. The crowds were huge and at about 8pm the massive militarized police force took over Central in front of the University and began a standoff that resulted in tear gassing around 9pm. UNM alerted students to “stay in shelter” as tear gas drifted into their dorm rooms and people scrambled into Johnson Field on campus to get away from the tear gas. Two city council members, Rey Garduno and Diane Gibson, came down to the crowds.
Downtown, some brave protesters organized a “lie in” on the street in front of the APD. Again after a standoff, police gave “final warnings”, then shot tear gas into the crowd.
According to Namaste, the experience was very taxing on pro-bono lawyers and other seasoned activists engaged in "negotiations with APD and city councilors".
Throughout the 11 hours, not one protester was provoked to violence. One man brought paintball guns and got a lot of media attention, but he was not welcomed by the protesters and instead told to leave.
As usual, the mainstream media quotes the mayor and described the day as “starting off peacefully” and ending in “mayhem” or “turning violent”.
Their definition of violence seems to be yelling and minor vandalism by a few.
The next day, Monday March 31st, (Un)Occupy Abq hosted a community forum attended by 170 people. Says Namaste: "We debriefed what's happening in our community in an OWS way using participatory, democratic GA style with progressive stack. It was facilitated by (Un)Occupy Albuquerque, the local OWS chapter - which still has weekly GAs 2 yrs later and is very active." According to Tina Kachele, over 35 demands were drafted and "honed down to three core demands that will be presented to the Abq City Council" the following Monday night: 1. Release ALL videos of police shootings; 2. Indict all police officers involved in shootings; 3. Drop all charges against protestors on March 30.
Of the Albuquerque resident shot by police days after the first demonstration, Namaste says, "we held a protest almost all day spontaneously within hours after the (most recent) shooting, across from the crime scene investigation. We held a vigil last night at the same spot for the victim. He lived."
Some of the preceding first-hand account can be found on the Albuquerque PD in Crisis social media site. (The rest is based on correspondence with Sayrah Namaste.)