By Carolyn Carlson
—Jose Martinez has seen more than a few rough nights on the city’s streets. He said he’s seen things he would like to forget. What he can’t forget is how some of the city’s police officers treat folks who are struggling. “The homeless are brutalized,” he said during last night’s City Council meeting.
Hundreds of people packed into the Monday, April 7 meeting, and more spilled into an overflow room on the ninth floor and out onto Civic Plaza, where TVs were set up showing a broadcast of the meeting. The Council dedicated the entire session to hearing concerns about officer-involved shootings and other police misconduct. City staffers said about 150 people signed up to speak. Public comment lasted five hours.
Council President Ken Sanchez announced that Mayor Richard Berry was invited but was not going to be in attendance due to a previously scheduled meeting. The news was met with loud boos. Police Chief Gorden Eden, who was appointed in February, sat in the back of the chambers along with Rob Perry, the city’s chief administrative officer. The city had extra security on hand but filled those posts with firefighters instead of police officers.
Public unrest regarding the Albuquerque Police Department has been simmering for several years. Officers have shot 37 people and killed 23 since 2010. Protests erupted this year after the shooting and killing of James Boyd, who was camping in the Sandia foothills.
The U.S. Department of Justice has been investigating APD civil rights abuses and excessive force patterns since November 2012 and announced late Monday that it would release findings on Thursday, April 10.
Jewel Hall, president of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Multicultural Council, opened the comments. She urged cooperation among the various groups looking to find a solution. “We are all interconnected,” Hall said. “We must pledge to work together.”
Kathy Turnipseed is the deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. She asked the City Council to make it a law that police officers wear— and turn on—cameras during every encounter with the public, and then release the videos upon request. She also said the ACLU would like to see a court-ordered monitor to make sure real police reform happens within APD.
Ralph Arellanes, director for the state’s League of United Latin American Citizens, said he was in support of the DOJ running APD. “The only solution is a complete takeover of the entire department,” he said. Arellanes said he is passionate about this issue, because in 2007, his son was brutally beaten by APD officers, who used their Tasers 18 times.
John Lujan said he participated in the protests and was at the meeting because of the March 16 Boyd shooting. “If you don’t give us justice, there will be more riots,” he said to the Council. Adrian Gurule questioned the quality of some police officers and suggested that “APD should take out its own trash.” Crystal Alderete said a better attitude by the department would help. “APD needs to stand up and say they are sorry, that they have done wrong and will do better.” Others argued police shootings are a race and class issue: “You don’t see cops going to the Northeast Heights and shooting white-collar criminals,” Bob Anderson said.
Desi Brown used his two minutes of public comment by asking the Council to sit quietly and think about those killed by the police department and how the Council stood by and allowed APD to continue shooting people. A number of speakers called for the removal of Mayor Berry and newly appointed Chief Eden.
Several people spoke to defend the department and its officers, garnering more boos from the audience.
Former Albuquerque police officer Sally Dyer said there had been no attempt by the mayor or the chief to explain to public how dangerous the job is, how fast an attacker can move and how deep an small knife can cut. When President Sanchez signaled the end of Dyer’s two minutes, she asked to have additional time. When Sanchez again refused, she said, “If I went in to the street and spit in an officer’s face, then you would listen to me?”
Stephanie Lopez, president of the local police union, said city residents should trust the investigation process into police shootings. “The public should not be so quick to demonize the officers involved in shootings.”
Derek Bennett said he put up a Facebook page titled: Veteran Support for APD. “We don’t support the Boyd shooting,” he said. “But police officers risk their lives every day. It’s a scary scenario. These officers have families who count on them coming home.”
Councilor Rey Garduño said at the close of the meeting that he planned on introducing legislation asking the DOJ to appoint an independent monitor to run APD, as well as a City Charter amendment to make the police chief an elected position.
The next Albuquerque City Council meeting is Monday, April 21, at 5 p.m. in the Council Chambers in the basement of City Hall. Watch it on GOV-TV 16 or at cabq.gov/govtv.