Albuquerque, Albuquerque Police Department, police violence, Political Activism

Democracy in Action

By KAY MATTHEWS

David Correia is my co-editor at La Jicarita. Because he was singled out in yesterday’s Albuquerque Journal editorial condemning the civil disobedience at the May 5 Albuquerque City Council meeting, I am using La Jicarita to defend his actions. In the larger scheme of things, however, it is a defense of all of those committed activists who have brought attention to the abuses of the Albuquerque Police Department to not only New Mexicans but to citizens across the country and the world. That the mainstream media reduces a diverse, communal coalition to one white male—“Correia & Co.”— says volumes about who it listens to and who it represents: the power elite.

David is a community activist and professor of American Studies at UNM as well as managing editor of La Jicarita. There is no incongruity in these positions, or conflict of interest; together, they define a citizen. Academic activists bring their scholarship to the struggles in which they engage all over the world: to end apartheid in South Africa; to end the occupation of Palestine; to resist tuition increases and the dismantling of the great University of California system; to combat police violence in Albuquerque. Activist journalists do not subvert an “objective” journalism that doesn’t exist. They employ their knowledge and skills to critique and analyze situations in which they engage not only as reporters but as catalysts of change.

David’s fields of study include Spanish and Mexican land grants and the history of law, property, and violence that surround them. His book on the Tierra Amarilla Land Grant, Properties of Violence: Law and Land Grant Struggle in Northern New Mexico, was published last year, and his research into these issues also extends to the history of Chicano social movements in Albuquerque against police violence.

Mark Schiller and I founded La Jicarita in 1996 as the voice of a watershed coalition engaged in environmental and social justice issues in northern New Mexico. We were members of the coalition that fought many battles—industrial mining near Picuris Pueblo, bureaucratic cooption of the acequia system, and Forest Service mismanagement—as well as writers who helped clarify just what was at stake. The paper became a separate non-profit in 1998 and we expanded its coverage—and our activism—to include the many issues of social injustice that impacted, and continue to impact, the lives of New Mexicans: the economic hegemony of Los Alamos National Laboratory; globalization; the Disneyfication of our national forests; and the privatization of water.

David contributed many articles to La Jicarita, beginning in the mid-2000s as a graduate student whose PhD dissertation was on the Vallecitos Federal Sustained Yield Unit, a designated forest area that was meant to benefit the land-based communities on the west side of Carson National Forest. In both his dissertation and La Jicarita articles he explored the ways in which that designation, promoted as an economic opportunity for villagers to engage in forestry instead of agropastoral subsistence that the Forest Service claimed had degraded the land and created poverty, failed to do either. Instead, it created the environment in which these communities found themselves fighting both corporate logging companies and environmentalists over access to the forest.

In 2012 La Jicarita became an online journal positioning itself at the point where critical scholarship and community activism converge, with David, now an assistant professor at UNM, as the managing editor. As David stated in the La Jicarita Manifesto, “Because the barrios in Albuquerque, swelled in the last fifteen years with the ranks of young people fleeing the forced economic depression in northern New Mexico, have become a racialized killing field for the Albuquerque Police Department, we need to rethink the relationship between the city and country and between violence and environmental politics.”

When the Department of Justice finally stepped in to investigate the APD, after years of public complaints of its use of excessive force that resulted in 25 persons killed since 2010, who better than David to report on the investigation and findings of the DOJ for La Jicarita. And who better than David to lend his scholarly expertise to the diverse group of organizers—Peace and Justice, UnOccupy, Riseup, Stop the War Machine, SWOP, family members of victims, and others I don’t even know about—working to bring the APD to account.

This is what happened at the city council meeting on May 5 (See the people’s video of the people’s assembly below).

Ken Ellis, whose son was killed in 2010 by the APD, was the first speaker at this meeting that appeared to be a repeat of the April 7 when hundreds spoke against the department. But this one took another turn. Mike Gomez, whose son was also killed by the APD, ignited the crowd with his harsh assessment of council member Don Harris: “There you go again looking at your iPad. You don’t care about anyone but the rich. You’re a disgrace.” People paraded back and forth on the floor of the chamber with their signs: “Stop Police Brutality”; “Killer Cops off the Streets”; “Fire Chief Eden.”

David then read a statement that culminated with a citizen’s arrest of APD chief Gorden Eden, charging him on three counts: 1) an accessory after the fact to second-degree murder for the killing of James Boyd; 2) for knowingly and willfully harboring fugitives from justice at the Albuquerque Police Department; and 3) for crimes against humanity. Correia also demanded that Mayor Richard Berry come to the meeting and bear witness. People in the audience rose up and surrounded David in solidarity. When UnOccupy organizer Sayrah Namaste attempted to present the citizens arrest warrant to Eden, who was in attendance with a retinue of other police officers, she was grabbed by two of them and held back. Eden, along with Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry, quickly got up and left. We learned later that shortly thereafter security personnel locked the doors to the city council chamber while the protest continued inside.

Most of the city council members also decided to vacate, and the protesters declared they were going to reconvene the meeting as a “people’s meeting.” The only city counselors who stayed in the chamber were Klarissa Peña, Ray Garduño, and Dan Lewis, who came down off the podium and talked with the protesters (Peña and Garduño stayed during the entire takeover). Protesters continued to voice their anger and demands from the floor podium until Ken Sanchez, council president, came back in the room and announced that the meeting was adjourned.

The people’s meeting then quickly became the “people’s council” as protesters moved up to occupy the council seats. From the floor podium David called out “Democracy is messy” while the self-appointed city counselors—a cross-section of Albuquerque that included women, men, Hispanos, Anglos, African Americans, old and young (a 12-year old)—chanted, “This is what democracy looks like.” David read out the list of resolutions: 1) a no confidence vote on Mayor Berry and CAO Perry and the resignation of Chief Eden; 2) that the DOJ consent order include a provision that lapel cameras worn by APD will be on at all times when they have any encounters with civilians and they be terminated if they fail to do so; and 3) and that an independent civilian oversight committee be established with the power to discipline, hire, and fire officers. The people’s council voted unanimously to pass all the resolutions.

David announced that a mass protest would be organized over the next few weeks.

The decision to serve a “people’s arrest warrant” of Chief Eden was used to connect the current struggle against the APD to a much longer struggle against police violence in Albuquerque that is two generations old. The social movement group La Alianza Federal de Mercedes used the tactic throughout the 1960s as a way to bring attention to generations of injustice to the land grant community. In the 1970s an Albuquerque social movement group called the Black Berets attempted to serve a warrant on the New Mexico director of prisons.

The DOJ is preparing a consent decree that it hopes will resolve APD’s “culture of aggression.” Some think it’s time to bypass that step and put the APD into federal receivership, although that’s no guarantee that substantive, systemic change will suddenly occur (just ask the citizens of Seattle, which was taken over by the DOJ in 2012). What is clear is that the citizen activists who have worked for years to expose the APD’s excessive use of force against Albuquerque’s most vulnerable citizens, who have turned out to testify before the DOJ, who have attended administrative meetings and city council meetings without any compensation, are the ones who will bring about change.

As David said at the end of the May 5 city council meeting: “This meeting is over but the movement is not.”

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About lajicarita

La Jicarita is a community journal that advocates for land based communities and sustainable use of public land resources in northern New Mexico. http://www.lajicaritanews.org

Discussion

7 thoughts on “Democracy in Action

  1. Singling out activists in the press is one of the ways that the police apparatus create their reactionary “public opinion” for further crackdowns against these activists. It’s extremely important for the broad numbers of groups and individuals who are part of the work of demanding justice for the many, many people murdered at the hands of the APD–and, of course, for people more broadly–to stand with David Correia against the efforts to harrass, intimidate or even (it’s been done!) prosecute him.
    Hombro a hombro con David
    Mike S.

    Posted by Mike S. | May 8, 2014, 6:14 pm
  2. Congratulations to David and Kay. Citizen journalists and academic activists deserve our thanks. Despite the gravity of the situation, there is some delicious irony in presenting the APD Chief with a warrant for arrest. By the way, I spoke with the grandmother of an APD victim, who is from Taos and takes exercise with my wife at Ancianos. The APD “killing fields” affect us all. Bill Whaley, Taos

    Posted by Bill Whaley | May 8, 2014, 6:52 pm
  3. Thanks, Kay, for your very cogent and thorough explanation, and thank you, David, for having the courage to take the lead. And thanks to the parents and families of the victims for keeping the struggle going all these lonely years. Finally you’ve been joined by the allies you’ve needed.

    Posted by Mark Rudd | May 8, 2014, 6:53 pm
  4. What a genuinely moving unequivocal defense of your colleague. A magnificent post. So heartening to read.

    Posted by Frances Madeson | May 8, 2014, 11:55 pm
  5. As a former Albuquerque resident now living in Seattle, I have a small correction to your excellent article. Our police department here in Seattle has a similar record of brutality and murder, and also came under DOJ scrutiny. However our department has not gone into federal receivership. The city reached an agreement with DOH and is currently in the process of implementing reforms. Time will tell whether substantive change occurs. One evident problem is the inordinate power of the Police Guild; a quasi trade union that shields police from scrutiny or from reform.

    Posted by Marcos Martinez (@marcosinseattle) | May 9, 2014, 9:06 pm
  6. Why is it no one is protesting Mayor Berry. It is like he is mayor of Albuquerque in an alternate universe. The city council does not run the day to day operations, Richard Berry (well Rob Perry) does. So why aren’t the protesters camping out in Berry’s office? Protesting events he is appearing at? The City Council is part of the problem here, but the mayor is 90% of the issue. He seems to have been forgotten. He should be protested at every opportunity.

    Posted by Amber | May 12, 2014, 9:56 am

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