By DAVID CORREIA
At the Monday, March 31, 2014 Community Forum on APD, local attorney Larry Kronen told the more than 170 attendees that Albuquerque Police Deputy Chief Macario Page contacted him and asked to set up a meeting. In the wake of a week of protests and rising anger against APD, Page wanted to sit down with local activists and organizers and talk about how to better police future protests against APD. Larry asked the assembly if we wanted to do it.
No doubt APD need lots of help, but there wasn’t much enthusiasm in the room. The forum was skeptical and as the week wore on, it became clear why. Mayor Berry began quietly contacting various community organizations also asking for small, private meetings. Apparently it’s appeasement time at City Hall. Berry is hoping that he can talk his way out of the crisis of his political present (and future). It’s a coordinated effort to pacify protesters and appear conciliatory and transparent. A last ditch effort to “reach out,” or “start a dialogue” or whatever his media relations people eventually call it. But after years of being bullied by Berry, most community groups ignored his requests.
After much consideration, however, Larry convinced us that it made sense to talk to APD. The meeting would come on Friday, April 4, just hours before another Anonymous-called protest against APD violence. And just days after the previous Sunday’s 11-hour, Anonymous-called march in which APD provoked peaceful protesters with menacing mounted patrols. A show of military force in which fatigue-wearing officers riding around on tanks pointed assault weapons at people. In which gas-mask wearing officers in riot gear menaced people with truncheons.
So I joined Larry, along with Sayrah Namaste and Amalia Montoya, in a meeting with Deputy Chief Page and Commander Tim Gonterman.
We showed up at APD headquarters at 1:30, around the same time that city officials announced a shutdown of all city offices at 4:00 in anticipation of the downtown protest called for 4:15 PM.
A guard sitting behind bullet-proof glass called up to tell the Deputy Chief that we’d arrived.
“Sorry,” he said. “The Deputy Chief told me to tell you that he’s running late.”
What? Larry’s shaking his head, “We have a scheduled meeting and we’ve got other meetings to get to. How late?”
“I don’t know,” he says.
“Can you call him back?” I ask. “He called this meeting.”
“No, I can’t do that,” he says.
“You can’t or you won’t?
“I’m not calling him back.”
“Is he in the building?” I ask.
“No, he’s not.”
Welcome to the Albuquerque Police Department.
We turn to leave but as we do Larry remembers that Page gave him his cell phone number. He calls Page. Page answers. “I’ll be right down.” He’s down in two minutes.
He escorts us up an elevator and into a 5th floor conference room. Commander Tim Gonterman is waiting for us.
[UPDATE] A reader sent this along (link to story in comments below): This is what the Albuquerque Journal reported about Gonterman in November 2006:
Albuquerque Journal (November18, 2006): A formerly homeless man who suffered severe burns and lost part of his ear when he was arrested by three Albuquerque police officers four years ago was awarded about $300,000 by a federal jury Friday.
Despite the verdict in U.S. District Court, Jerome Hall, who suffered permanent disfiguration from the September 2002 incident, said he’ll never feel he’s gotten complete justice.
“They took my dignity away from me in public,” said Hall, who says police officers unlawfully arrested him, used Tasers on him and beat him excessively after he was warned not to walk along Central east of Nob Hill. “They treated me like an animal because I was black and homeless— like I was less than nothing. It was a public lynching in modern times.”
Hall lost part of his ear. Gonterman, who did the Tasering, got promoted. A week after the verdict, Hall, who said he feared retaliation, was found shot to death. No arrests were made for the murder. Gonterman is currently Commander of APD’s Professional Standards Division.
We get right to the meeting. Page starts talking. He wants us to help them make sure no one gets hurt. These protests are dangerous, he tells us.
When he pauses, I point out that they were the ones who came out like an army. Who decided to come out like an army?
“We don’t want to talk about the past,” Page says.
“I’m not sure I like your tone,” Gonterman tells me.
My mom used to say that to me when I was eight: Welcome to the Albuquerque Police Department.
Page returns to his spiel about how we should help them police the protesters.
Larry points out that some protesters want to coordinate and some don’t. We don’t dictate to anyone.
Page says he doesn’t want his officers to get hurt. Doesn’t want anyone to get hurt.
When he finishes, Amalia, in a calm voice, explains that she shares that concern.
“There were lots of young people in the streets last Sunday. I went down, lots of us went down. We saw you in riot gear. It looked like an army. I asked every officer in the line who I could talk to. Who we could negotiate with? They ignored me. I went to the officers behind them. They ignored me. No officer would reply. We tried to talk to them every way we could think. They ignored all of us. So then we just had to ignore you and we talked to the protesters.”
Page says he’ll give us all his phone number. He’s says something about avoiding violence.
Sayrah: “I don’t know of one act of violence in that protest. What I saw was a militarized police department. It was shocking. We don’t want a militarized force in our streets. And despite that, the reason there was no violence was because we want peace.”
She finishes and Page quickly jumps in: “We had two automatic weapons in that crowd.”
Syrah and Amalia explain that protesters de-escalated those encounters, not police.
Gonterman: “I see it frustrates you. You have decent people but you have troublemakers.”
“No,” says Sayrah. “My frustration is with police.”
Gonterman interrupts her: “Why do you think we did that?”
Sayrah, quickly back: “I’m not a cop. You tell me.”
But again they refuse to explain under what conditions they come out like an army.
So I ask again: “Under what conditions do you come out like an army?”
“Anything that endangers property,” Gonterman says. “Anything that endangers the public. It depends.”
“Who decided to come out like an army?”
Gonterman’s getting frustrated. He tells me he only likes positive comments.
My Kindergarten teacher used to say that to me: Welcome to the Albuquerque Police Department.
Gonterman’s getting worked up. He’s angry and he starts to tell me something but Page interrupts him: “I don’t want a confrontation,” he says. So instead he launches into a meandering speech about his ancestors and his patriotism and the constitution. Apparently he loves all those things. He mentions his kids. He loves them too. He raises his hands and slowly brings them together, fingers intertwined. What’s he doing? It looks like that children’s game: This is the church and this is the steeple, open it up and here’s all the people? No, that can’t be it. It’s supposed to be important. Supposed to mean something but I can’t figure out what. Finally he’s done. He apologizes for getting worked up.
Larry: “Let’s refocus this.”
Amalia: “So here it is. We can go in the street. We can take up all the lanes.”
Page: “There’s traffic. It’s dangerous. You can’t take the street.”
Amalia: “Yes we can. Why don’t you use all that military power you have and use it to keep the cars off the street instead of the protesters.”
They don’t seem to like this idea but they can’t explain why.
Amalia continues: “The police are killing people and we’re angry. We’ll take the street if we want it.”
Page says that it’s our right to protest. “I believe in the constitution. I believe in your rights.”
I ask why they won’t explain to us under what conditions they come out like an army. And: “Who decided to fire tear gas? Who gave the order to come out with assault weapons, with tanks?”
Again Page refuses to answer. Again Page says he doesn’t want a confrontation.
Larry: “I don’t see a confrontation here. We have valid questions that you won’t answer. Explain this to us.”
No answer. Instead Gonterman says, “We’re more similar than you think.”
Sayrah: “I’ll believe that when you’re the ones who de-escalate. When you de-militarize.”
Gonterman starts talking about a few instigators in the protest.
Amalia and Sayrah remind them that it was the protesters who de-escalated all those situations.
Page admits he saw protesters, not police, de-escalate. “But we chased that guy with the AK-47 off,” he says.
“Good. What happened with that guy?” asks Sayrah.
He doesn’t answer. He doesn’t know but we’re circulating emails among ourselves with photos of the AK-47 toting protesters. Some recognize them as instigators. People at the protest asked them, “Are you working with cops? Are you provocateurs?” They got nervous and wouldn’t answer and then they disappeared.
Larry reminds them again: “It was your police department that escalated the protest.”
Amalia asks again: “Why did you bring an army to the protest?”
Page: “We do everything we can to keep things peaceful.”
“Peaceful? How is an army firing tear gas into a crowd peaceful?” I ask.
Gonterman’s mad again. He gets mad a lot. Page interrupts him. Another meandering speech: He talks about his officers getting shot in the past. He talks about seeing dead children. No hand gestures this time.
Larry: “Your show of force escalated things. And that’s why you do it. To make people afraid.”
Gonterman: “What amount of violence should we put up with?”
Yup. He said that. Read that again. APD Commander Tim Gonterman actually asked us what amount of violence the Albuquerque police department should “put up with.”
I can’t help myself. Loudly: “Huh?”
Larry: “I think you can tolerate some graffiti. There was no property damage. That didn’t happen. Nobody was hurt. There was a fight but the people broke it up, not the police.”
Amalia: “I’m going to represent the people, not APD. I’m going to go by what they want.”
There’s more talk of traffic control, of de-militarization. It occurs to me that they don’t know what that word means.
Page mentions again that he wants to negotiate. Gonterman mentions again that APD’s out to keep the peace. I wonder if we should define “peace.”
Sayrah: “Stop coming out with a display of military force.”
Amalia: “These people are in the streets because bullets tore through the flesh of real people. These were your bullets. And the fact that some minor vandalism occurred doesn’t compare. If they want to sit in the street, they get the street.”
Larry tells them that people were scared because every officer on the street during the protest covered their name tags. That scares people, Amalia tells him.
It’s 2:15. The meeting’s ending. As we get up to leave Sayrah asks Page about the lapel video in the killing of Alfred Redwine.
“Who?” asks Page
Who? It occurs to me that maybe they use numbers, instead of names, to refer to the people they kill.
“Alfred Redwine,” she says. When will that video get released?
“The Chief decides that,” he says.
Welcome to the Albuquerque Police Department.
Less than two hours after our meeting, people start massing in Civic Plaza for another Anonymous-called protest. This time, without police provoking protesters, marchers assemble and march up and down Central Avenue. Among other things, they chant: “We’re a peaceful protest. We’re a peaceful protest” For hours the sound of honking up and down Central drowns out the chanting and the drumming. They stay on the sidewalk. They police themselves.