In case our fellow readers missed this weekend's New York Times Magazine article on our beloved little gem of a city, we thought we'd republish it here. And we thought we'd tip our hand a little bit and say, we had our "eyes" full of it before it was published. It seems the author was a frequent reader of your loveable Eye. But alas, here it is by former UNM faculty member Justin St. Germain:
TWO weeks ago, in a vacant lot on the west side of Albuquerque, a few teenagers beat two homeless men to death. I read about the attack in a hotel room in Nebraska, en route to a new job, hours after leaving New Mexico for good. I wish I could say the news surprised me. But after three years of living in Albuquerque, I’d gotten used to hearing stories about arbitrary violence, especially against the homeless.
I had a hard time describing Albuquerque to outsiders, who usually knew it only from the TV show “Breaking Bad.” I tried comparing it to Tucson, a city of similar size and climate where I’d previously lived, but that didn’t convey how Albuquerque felt. Other times I’d compare it to the Mission District of San Francisco, with its large homeless population. But neither of those cities prepared me for Albuquerque, the sense of threat, the air as thick with tension as it often was with dust.
The rate of violent crime in Albuquerque is nearly double the national average. The homelessness rate, though harder to quantify, is similarly high. In San Francisco, I was used to homeless people sleeping in every storefront, but they were largely ignored, or, at worst, taunted. In Albuquerque, it was different. The homeless and mentally ill were victimized to a striking degree, even by the very people responsible for protecting them: the police.
In March, Albuquerque Police Department officers shot and killed a homeless man named James Boyd. The shooting wasn’t unusual. Albuquerque police are notorious for using excessive force. They’ve killed 27 people since 2010, and their rate of deadly shootings is eight times that of their counterparts in New York City. The Department of Justice recently released the findings of an investigation that revealed a pattern of civil rights violations, unjustified use of force and lack of accountability. Many of the victims had histories of homelessness and mental illness. The only difference with Mr. Boyd’s death was that the shooting was caught on video by cameras mounted on the officers’ helmets.
The videos, which are widely available on the Internet, show Mr. Boyd saying he’s afraid the officers are going to shoot him. As he picks up his bags, they shoot stun grenades and sic police dogs on him. He draws knives, presumably to defend himself from the dogs, and turns away as if to flee. Then the officers open fire with assault rifles.
Defenders of the Albuquerque Police Department pointed out Mr. Boyd’s history of mental illness and noted that early in the encounter he had threatened to kill the officers. (“I’m almost going to kill you right now,” he said. “Don’t give me another directive. Don’t attempt to give me, the Department of Defense, another directive.”) But it’s hard to watch the video and see anything but sanctioned murder.
A few weeks later, an officer with a history of being accused of using excessive force shot and killed 19-year-old Mary Hawkes, claiming she had pointed a gun at him. His lapel camera yielded no video; after analyzing the device, the manufacturer said it had either malfunctioned or been shut off. She later tested positive for methamphetamine. Less than two weeks after that, officers shot and killed a military veteran with a history of mental health issues and a gun who had barricaded himself in his home. The department later released only a brief segment of video.
Protests erupted in response to the killings, including one I watched from my front porch that shut down Central Avenue for hours, spilled onto Interstate 25 and ended in the early morning, when police shot tear gas into the streets of downtown. Protesters later disrupted a City Council meeting.
At first it seemed as if the rest of the country didn’t much care that a metro area of nearly a million people had become a powder keg. But in the two weeks since the brutal beating by the teenagers, people have started paying attention. They are asking how something that terrible could happen, what kind of place breeds violence like that. The teenagers reportedly confessed to randomly beating dozens of other homeless people in the last year. A police department spokesman, Simon Drobik, has been quoted expressing his horror and lamenting the fact that the police received no reports of the other attacks.
Coming from this department — which has shown how little value it sets on the life of Albuquerque’s most vulnerable citizens — that seems hypocritical. No wonder homeless victims aren’t coming forward, when
they know what kind of treatment they might receive.
Before seeing the Boyd video, I had frequently called the police because of situations involving the homeless: for the woman I found lying unresponsive in my front yard, the ranting man trespassing on my neighbor’s porch who refused to leave, the drunk who climbed the fence into my back yard at 3 in the morning, lit all the burners on my propane grill, and fell asleep next to it. After the video, I stopped calling. I was afraid they’d show up shooting, and I didn’t want blood on my hands.
If the police officers themselves set an example of violence against the homeless, they shouldn’t be surprised if others follow it.
One Christmas Day, I came home to find my street cordoned off, news vans parked by the abandoned taqueria. A shivering reporter told me that a homeless man had been found dead in the Dumpster, and that it might have been a homicide. I never heard the results of the investigation, if there were results, if there was an investigation.
This June, a truck swerved onto the sidewalk near a homeless shelter and ran over four people sleeping there, killing one and injuring the others. Surveillance footage suggested it was intentional.
Why wouldn’t the people who committed these crimes believe they could kill and get away with it, when the cops keep doing exactly that? (The original story can be read here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/opinion/sunday/goodbye-albuquerque-land-of-violence.html?_r=0)
While the nation gasps in what to think of our little gem of a city, we at the Eye are left wondering what if all the other little nasties that our fair city holds were to really brought before the city. You remember those Mr. Berry, Mr. Perry, Ms. Martinez right? You know, things like:
APD's ex-chief's special gig with Taser?
CABQ's CAO's little jaunt's to shooting scenes?
CABQ's Mayor's little gig's with ladies who leave thongs at his office?
CABQ's little lawsuits against its own labor unions?
The murder coverup of prominent civil rights lawyer and foe of APD, Mary Han/
CABQ's scapegoating of its own officers including John Doyle and Robert Woolever?
APD's fabrications and distortion of crime statistics to falsify crime trends for political gain?
APD's in-house walking political operative TJ Wilham (and endless eating el gordo grande)?
APD's coverup of the West Mesa Murders until even Ray Schultz couldn't hid it?
Ray Schultz's continued manipulation of current chief Gordon Eden (watch what your family says Gordo, we got ears everywhere...)