Justice for the Mesa Women
Lupe Lopez-Haynes' sister went missing 21 years ago. When the bodies on the West Mesa were first discovered, she wondered if her sister would be among them. Beatrice Lopez Cubelos' remains were not uncovered at the mass grave, but there are still families who believe their missing daughters could be near the site at 118th Street and Dennis Chavez, Lopez-Haynes says.
She's organized a demonstration that will take place on Saturday, Sept. 18, at 11 a.m. in front of APD headquarters. Lopez-Haynes and the group Justice of West Mesa Women are calling for the police to find the killer with improved investigation and increased advertising of the $100,000 reward. They'd also like digging to resume at the site and for there to be better processes for missing persons cases in Albuquerque.
Spurred by the memory of her sister, Lopez-Haynes would like to keep the women discovered on the mesa—and all missing people—in the minds of Albuquerque's citizens. She says officials would rather sweep them under the rug, or, in this case, the memorial park proposed for the site. "They want us to go away. They want us to be forgotten."
Adriann Barboa, director of Young Women United, says the nonprofit held a community event where several family members of women found on the mesa were present. She says the families expressed dismay at the slackening publicity for the $100,000 reward. "Someone, somewhere knows," Barboa says. "Someone is going to get desperate and go for the money. And it needs to happen sooner than later."
Others, whose family members went missing in that time frame—2004 to 2005—would like to see digging resume, Barboa says. "This site was only found because a community member's dog pulled up a bone." With all the development on the Westside, she asks, what will prevent an unknown gravesite from being swallowed by rows of houses?
A speaker who's worked with the families of women murdered in Juárez and El Paso will be at Saturday's protest to talk about the big-picture connections. "We're talking about poverty-stricken people of color," Barboa says. "We throw them aside."
Young Women United, says Barboa, is focusing on root causes. "What led these women to be in a position where someone thought they were vulnerable and not important enough, that they could murder them and get away with it?" So far, the killer has gotten away with it, she points out.
Many of the women found on the mesa are said to have been sex workers or had some history of drug abuse, so Barboa's also talking about treatment for drug offenses instead of incarceration. "Because 80 percent of the women in jail are in for nonviolent drug offenses, and 88 percent of those women have histories of sexual violence. It's not just that these women are bad and they do drugs because they're wild and crazy. It's actually linked to some sort of traumatic history."
When drug abusers are put in jail, she says, it makes them criminals. "It takes away their humanness. Everyone has a chance to be rehabilitated. We all want normal lives."
Poverty, a lack of resources, and easily access to drugs and alcohol is part of a systemic cycle that continues violence, she finishes. "It leaves these women throw-awayable."