By DAVID CORREIA
When officers of the Albuquerque police department killed James Boyd on Sunday March 16, they told the press that he was armed and dangerous and posed a real and present threat to responding officers. The Albuquerque Journal, as it does on every occasion of a police shooting death in Albuquerque, published those claims alongside an article chronicling Boyd’s violent, criminal history.
[Note: the Journal did this again this morning, March 27, 2012, as part of its reporting into the APD shooting death of Alfred Redwine].
But those claims were proved wrong when, later in the week, APD released video from the helmet camera of APD officer Dominique Perez. The video shows Perez and Keith Sandy shooting Boyd while he turns away from them, on their command, and moves toward the ground.
It is a grim kind of accounting we find ourselves doing in Albuquerque these days; the political economy of the body bag. In every editorial condemning police violence and at every press conference or rally: 23 killed by APD since 2010. It is more per-capita than any other city in the United States. And how dare we present it that way, as though it’s another statistic we use to compare our city to other cities, like the number of new housing starts or graduation rates or poverty rates (which, by the way, we lead in too). I have blood on my hands when I transform the problem into a statistic. These are not statistics or rates; they were young men and they were murdered. And now there are families of victims in mourning among us.
And there are murderers among us too. Twenty-three mostly young men, many homeless and many who suffered from mental illness, few of them armed, were shot and killed. They are gone and in their place walk their armed killers. No officers have been charged, ever, with the crime of murder and no officer has been fired.
These cops who kill people remain armed with assault weapons and grenade launchers and Tasers and they use them, not indiscriminately, but in targeted killings. Their targets are mostly troubled young men—men with mental illnesses who often have no access to health care of any kind. They kill the poor. They kill homeless men who arm themselves with small knives because sleeping alone on the streets can be dangerous. And when they kill these men the newspapers remind us that it was justified because the man had a knife.
And it is even more chilling to remember that ours is an arbitrary accounting. Those 23 victims join the three-dozen victims of APD violence from the 1990s, and the even more from the 1980s. Our outrage is as old as APD’s blood thirst.
But finally, after the release of the video of James Boyd’s assassination, the ground appears to have shifted beneath our feet. The facts on the ground are different today than they were two weeks ago. What two weeks ago was seen by many as rhetoric (killer cops) is today recognized as our collective reality. Our long standing claims that we live in a police state controlled by killer cops is point-of-fact not political provocation.
That the ground had shifted was made clear at the meeting this past Monday. Jewel Hall of the MLK Center convened families of APD victims and various community leaders and activists. At that meeting, one father of an APD victim condemned not only APD but all attendees of the meeting for thinking that it was still time for OP/EDs and requests to speak to the Mayor or Police Chief. “I’m ready to chain myself to APD right now,” he said. Another father of an APD victim agreed and quickly the entire group turned its attention to devising a strategy for non-violent direct action and civil disobedience.
The group decided to call itself the Albuquerque Task Force for Public Safety (a purposefully bland and non-threatening name that many of us suspected would give us cover as we planned our strategy of direct action).
Our first act of direct action was to charge Richard Berry, Chief Eden and Boyd’s killers, Sandy and Perez with murder. We issued warrants for their arrest. I offered to write those warrants and announce and deliver them to the Tuesday March 25th protest march. I did just that. In print and TV reports on the protest, the press mistakenly described these as “mock” arrest warrants and their distribution as guerilla theater. They were wrong.
If Berry, Eden, Perez and Sandy are not removed from their current positions and charged in state or federal court, members of the task force, with the help of Albuquerque Cop Block, will peacefully serve these warrants and place Mayor Richard Berry and Chief of Police Gordon Eden under arrest.
At that same Monday meeting of the task force, Jewel Hall told the members that she had requested and received a meeting with the DOJ for Wednesday, March 26. More than 30 of us packed a 10th floor meeting at the US Attorney’s office in Albuquerque. Only Luis Saucedo, DOJ civil rights division, met with us in person (along with three FBI agents lurking at the fringe of the meeting). On teleconference from Washington, D.C. was Jonathan Smith, Chief of the DOJ’s Special Litigation Division, and two other DOJ staffers working on the DOJ investigation—an investigation now more than 18 months old.
Smith spoke first. He first thanked us for helping them “develop methods for accountability” at APD. He described his sadness “about what’s happened” over the past two weeks (this was the afternoon after the shooting death of Alfred Redwine). He described a “sense of promise that these efforts can be successful.” He reminded us all that he was “concerned about these shootings in the context of the overall, total investigation.” A comment clearly intended to indicate that for DOJ, the facts on the ground have not changed.
In a statement tone deaf to the more than 40 years of failed reform efforts regarding APD, he said that their efforts remained focused on “finding remedies and solutions [to APD violence] and ways to fix the problems.” He quickly added that they had no interest in “looking at any individual act of misconduct.” It was an astounding set of statements. He was saying, in other words, that the DOJ would not find culpability in any individual. The DOJ would not deliver a report that could be used to build a case against any APD officer or Chief.
After some pleasantries, Jewel Hall turned the meeting over to the Vice President of the MLK Center, Andrew Lipman. At the beginning of the meeting I asked Lipman why the demands were described as demands to “Albuquerque Police Department and Albuquerque City Council” instead of how they were supposed to be presented: as demands to the DOJ. He told me that he had decided to make our demands recommendations to DOJ instead—to ask them to support our demands to APD. This unilateral decision contradicted the unanimous decision at the Monday planning meeting in which the group, led by families of APD victims, agreed that we should present these to DOJ as demands. They were not.
No pressure was placed on DOJ, no demands were made. We did not say that either they place APD in receivership or we will. The statements by families of the APD victims were moving and effective but the message they told us to deliver in our Monday planning meeting was buried in Wednesday’s DOJ meeting. It was a missed opportunity.
And it got worse. After the meeting the Albuquerque Journal interviewed Andrew Lipman, who was quoted as saying:
“The [DOJ] thought the rally [Tuesday night] was a good thing,” Lipman said. “It helped take some steam out of the community.”
It was a lousy metaphor and it didn’t come from DOJ. It was Lipman’s interpretation and it shouldn’t be yours. It is Berry and Eden who hope the march took steam out of the community. They hope that our outrage ebbs and any movement that included condemnation of their criminal role in the scores of APD deaths will go quietly away.
They must go, all of them, and then the hard work can begin, the work of decriminalizing poverty, homelessness and mental illness–the necessary conditions for real justice.