Photos by NICK ESTES
Article by SAM MARKWELL
Council President Ken Sanchez called the Albuquerque City Council meeting to order at 5:00 PM on Monday April 7th. Sanchez announced Mayor Berry’s apology for missing the meeting and the audience let forth boos, and a few calls of “Coward!” were discernable amid the audible lack of surprise.
The council’s non-APD related business was swept aside in the first five minutes. The remainder of the five hour and fifteen minute meeting was dedicated to public comment, allocated to individual speakers in two-minute increments. Speakers were occasionally allowed to exceed the allotted time if council persons had questions for them. The initial speakers were four people selected during a special meeting at the Peace & Justice Center two days prior to the Council meeting after councilor Rey Garduño offered to set aside additional time for families of victims and activists to address the Council.
Dr. Nicole Moreland Torres, a relative of Michael Torres who was shot and killed by APD three years ago, went first. Moreland-Torres said that she was hesitant to speak to the council after having presented before the council at numerous previous meetings. “I wasn’t quite sure what more I could offer you until the mayor said he had not heard of the Walker-Luna report.” The Walker-Luna report is the result of a 1996 city council commissioned study on APD. Torres talked about how the three-hundred page report was full of “data and evidence” that pointed to “a need to look into policy and practices.” She noted that recommendations had long been made to deal with the problem of police violence, but nothing happened, as “there was a lot of pushback” from the council and other government bodies. Moreland-Torres continued by referring to an earlier comment made by President Ken Sanchez, when he said the city council meeting was a way to show the nation that Albuquerque cares about its people, and responded “that’s not what you are showing.” She described how this lack of care was evident in the fact that no one from the city had shown up to the Torres family’s court hearing in their wrongful death case against the city. Additionally, no one had substantively responded to the persistent complaints that she, the Torres family, and concerned allies had brought before the council and other bodies of state and local government. She noted that now they were getting attention as New Mexico was in the spotlight. “We are on cable news, for god’s sake. Not for our beautiful mountains, just for who gets killed up there.” She concluded, “When you ignore these reports you are perpetuating a revolt of the people.”
Ralph Arellanes, spoke next, introducing himself as the Director of the League of Latin American Citizens, member of the Hispano Roundtable, and member of the Police Oversight Task Force. Arellanes began his comment by describing in painful detail how his son was tasered to death by APD officers while “hogtied and completely immobilized.” He told the council that in the aftermath of his son’s death his family, friends and allies had tried to hold APD accountable, and that “we learned a lot about APD during this process. We learned that dishonesty is the norm.” He then described being followed and harassed by APD officers, which “went on for years… but who do you call when it’s the police department doing that?” He then concluded that he had since been approached by many people who had similar experiences, and concluded by stating, “We [Albuquerque] have now become an embarrassment of the nation, and maybe the entire world. We will protest louder, and more united until we see change…. There is no question we now live in a police state, where we live in fear of the police.”
José Martinez followed Arellanes, introducing himself as a UNM student and recovering addict and person who had been fortunate enough to find his way out of homelessness. Martinez stated, “Everyone deserves to feel safe. APD is out of control…we need new stewardship of APD so the community can feel safe again. I demand increased funding for services to the homeless.” He then talked more about the struggles he went through while homeless and advised the council that they should “demand free housing for the homeless, that is a way of helping and giving back to your community.” He continued, “I don’t want no one else to go through what I went through. It was a living hell. If it wasn’t for affordable housing I probably would not have accomplished what I have accomplished, and would not be speaking before you today. Divert ten million from the APD budget to help the homeless” as a way to work towards “preventing and abolishing homelessness here in New Mexico.” He concluded, “We want the community to acknowledge a right to the city, that we do have a right to our city.”
Dinah Vargas spoke next, introducing herself as a UNM student working on “documenting life stories on film, with the violence of APD.” She said she was concerned that “it is now considered a crime to deal with mental illness or PTSD, unless you wield a badge.” She demanded “a non-police emergency response with mental health professionals and non-armed negotiators” and called for mandatory mental health checks on APD officers because “mental illness and PTSD do not discriminate.” She then spoke about how the protests had been non-violent, and it was necessary for people to protest even if it was demonized because “we cannot remain on this course [of unchecked police violence] because it is easy to remain comfortable in silence.”
Jewel Hall and Andrew Lipmann from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center spoke next. The MLKMC has been active in police accountability for years and requested that the city council work with “The MLKMC master plan where all the diverse elements that define New Mexico can come together to exchange cultural ideas and work on conflict resolution in ways that will improve the lives of all neighborhoods.” The center requested that a plan of action be put in place in cooperation with the MLKMC and called for action items to be co-formulated for the next city council meeting on April 21st. Hall concluded her requests by quoting King: “All life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever effects one directly, affects all indirectly.” And Lipmann concluded with King’s words that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Over a hundred comments followed, the vast majority reiterating the point that police violence was a definite problem. And many noted how fed up they were with inaction by the city. Tylina Hardy stated, “police violence has been an issue in Albuquerque since I have been alive” and she called for “complete accountability” before concluding, “it is far time you listen to us and show us some respect.”
Approximately 10 to 15 others spoke in support of APD. Steven Baca, who identified himself as the creator of the Support APD facebook page, were concerned that APD were the real victims in this situation. He noted that “I’ve been pulled over and I’m still alive standing here…the officer bought me coffee.” Baca said that the problems were not the fault of officers, “its our government system. It’s New Mexico’s weak criminal justice system.” He stated that James Boyd was a rapist and would still be in jail if New Mexico had more punitive laws. He concluded, “It’s time for New Mexicans to wake up and elect politicians who are tough on crime.”
Ken Ellis, whose son was killed by APD, spoke after Baca and plainly stated that he was “not anti-APD…. We are all in the same game, just different levels. We are all dealing with the same hell, just different devils.” He said that the Boyd tape was not unique, and that Albuquerque “needs to have community-based policing” and that he and others in the community “need to have respect from our officers. In order to receive respect you must give respect.” Scott Albright, another long-time Albuquerque resident who had come to fear the police, concurred with Ellis and told the council, “This is going to take a generation to rebuild the trust APD has lost from this community…. I hope we can work together, this is going to take a long time.” Mike Gomez, whose son Alan Gomez was killed by APD in 2011, noted the years of work he and others had put in petitioning the council for changes: “We warned you, we’ve been pleading with you. You sit there and look at your cell phones, look at your iPads. You don’t even listen to us.” As for the city, Gomez concluded, “We need new leadership,” but as for the victims of APD violence, “there will never be replaced that which APD took from us.”
A man identified only as Jack began by clarifying that he wanted “to call attention to the facts” that “anti-APD protests are being organized by un-American hate groups.” He stated that the “anti-semitic and anti-capitalist ANSWER Coalition” and “these groups share a far-left extremist ideology… they have co-opted the genuine emotion and outrage of this city.” Joel Gallegos from ANSWER spoke shortly after Jack and refuted the accusation of ANSWER’s supposed anti-semitism. He stated that the argument that cops have dangerous jobs that justify their actions was “a myth” and pointed out that the Department of Labor statistics “show that fisherman and plumbers have more dangerous jobs than policemen.”
Scott Lopez, who introduced himself as a member of the Support APD group, said he was appalled by Garduño and Sanchez “for not supporting APD.” He then read a list of ten officers who were killed while policing the city. He accused the councilors of allowing citizens to threaten police officers with guns and then read the following quotes from the Bible passage Romans 13:1 and 13:2, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”
Jordan Whelchel from ANSWER noted that “criminality” was not some ineffable factor that APD and Albuquerque faced, but something the U.S. specializes in producing as a nation “that has five percent of total world population and twenty-five percent of the prisoner population.” Whelchel then delivered the following statement:
The militarization of the police and the astounding degree of tolerance for brutality against the people prove that our city is afraid of its own failings. We have failed those most in need – those suffering from poverty, hunger, homelessness, substance abuse, and untreated mental and physical ailments.
The people who called the police on James Boyd certainly shared this fear and they acted in an all-too-common way in invoking the armed, violent, uniformed defenders of property to calm their nerves. Having grown up in a white suburb, this attitude of fear, repulsion, and stigmatization is very familiar to me.
Clearly the police – the armed wing of the state – cannot be trusted to deal with the deepest malfunctions of our society. This has nothing to do with metaphysical value judgments of “good” or “bad” cops. It feels absurd to have to say this, but I hope it rings true for all of you: We need care for the ill, not state-sanctioned murder. I support reforms to the police department, but that is not enough. We need to take people off the collision court with the police and use our collective resources to heal rather than suppress. There have been many measures suggested this evening that can be immediately implemented and others which are long-term goals. Act on them. The people demand it.
Sally Dyer spoke next, introducing herself as a former police officer. She spoke out against “this growing practice of bringing information before the citizens to judge” as “citizens don’t have any facts of the case.” The real problem she called attention to is that “Officers are being fired without due process.”
Steve Torres, whose son was shot and killed by APD, gave out copies of APD’s procedural order 2-13, “Response to the Mentally Ill/Suspected Mentally Ill and People in Crisis”. He referred to the policy and its intent to bring police encounters with mentally ill persons “to a desirable resolution.” He described numerous encounters, including the recent murder of Boyd, and told the council “these policies were in place when my son was killed.” As Torres led the council through the policy and the ways it has been violated time and again by APD, his two minute-limit ran out. Brad Winter asked Torres to continue, displaying interest and compassion that seemed largely absent from the council. Torres then took another minute going through the points of the procedure that APD officers have brazenly violated in incidents where they took people’s lives . He then asked, “Why are these procedures not being enforced?” He then turned and asked Chief Eden—who had been sitting quietly in the back of the meeting surrounded by angry looking police in nice suits—the same question. Torres was told by President Sanchez to address the council, and he quietly concluded and returned to his seat unanswered by either the council or Chief Eden.
Derek Garcia, a local attorney, said the city’s policing problems could be solved by returning to a holistic method of community policing. Derek Anderson, a UNM undergraduate, informed the council about research he had done through UNM’s databases, citing evidence that public expenditures on affordable housing programs save money in the long term by reducing the costs of addressing homelessness through incarceration and emergency health care. The cost-benefit ratio had been proven in other cities, Anderson noted, and he urged the council to consider a housing program. Councilman Don Harris responded to Derek Anderson, possibly mistaking him for Derek Garcia, stating that “holistic solutions” are impracticable, and then muttering something about different levels and entities of government. Garduño followed up by thanking Anderson for bringing up the evidence on the benefits of affordable housing programs. Garduño noted that he was a proponent of such programs, but that the council had “looked at it and it was turned down.”
Alex Evans, one of the last to speak, walked to the podium with a cane. After a short pause, he deliberately read the following note from his iPhone:
My name is Alex Evans. I am a mentally ill man and a recovering addict. To many officers, that defines me as a threat. But I am not a threat. I have been blessed to have a family and friends who support me, and I have been lucky enough to have a roof over my head and food to eat. I see many people on the street who are not lucky enough to have resources to be treated for mental illnesses and substance abuse. I am part of a population that is neglected by our government. I demand that my mentally ill sisters and brothers are given more resources to get them off the street, and back on their feet. Officers have a responsibility to try and diffuse potentially violent situations, not to aggravate them. APD needs to change this pattern of shoot first and ask later, by any means, because people like myself should not have to fear a bullet in the back!
At 10:05 the public comment came to a close. Garduño asked the council to (1) request the DOJ take over APD, and (2) direct the new police chief to be placed under the jurisdiction of DOJ. Additionally Garduño stated that he would be introducing legislation to change the city charter such that the police chief position is determined by a public vote.