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 V.20 No.39 | September 29 - October 5, 2011 

Gene Grant

More Voices, Louder Voices

Let's look back at the highly publicized detainment of Albuquerque Journal photographer Adolphe Pierre-Louis, who ended up in cuffs, on his knees for 30 minutes, on the side of I-40 for all the world to witness.

Time has not helped heal what took place.

A man told State Police that someone had given him a ride and then pulled a gun on him. As we all know now, the perp was bald and Hispanic, according to this eyewitness. Pierre-Louis is neither: He is Haitian with close-cropped hair.

State Police Chief Robert Shilling called him to personally apologize, which Pierre-Louis accepted, even though he was quoted as saying he would have appreciated an apology from the state officer who pulled him over. The better-late-than-never mea culpa was good enough for him, so it was good enough for me.

The situation was well in hand from a detainment point of view, but it added up to a spectacle.

Sort of.

I have issues with two things: the length of time Mr. Pierre-Louis was cuffed and on the ground on the side of the road, and why he was not put in the back of a vehicle after they ran a license and warrant check. And found no gun.

I’m talking about the window of time when another trooper fetched the eyewitness to make a roadside ID.

Let's be clear in our mind's eye here. What we're likely seeing is more than one state trooper vehicle, as these things go, with lights flashing. And probably a number of officers as well.

The idea that Pierre-Louis was kneeling while the man made his determination, looking down on Pierre-Louis as if bound slave chattel, is galling at the least, and likely a civil liberties violation.

The situation was well in hand from a detainment point of view, but it added up to a spectacle.

The signs of his innocence added up, too, easily enough. He was wearing his work ID and had his camera gear in the car. There was no gun. This was straight-up humiliation.

Pierre-Louis, who’s worked at the Journal for 16 years, does not exactly sport the dress, demeanor or attitude of “a problem,” so why treat him as such?

I absolutely do not buy that state police protocol dictates that a man remain on his knees, cuffed, waiting for an eyewitness. No way. There are levels of simple human decency that have to enter the process once the facts present themselves.

He was in essence presumed guilty before being proven innocent by the pedestrian who told police about a man with a gun.

The idea that Pierre-Louis was kneeling while the man made his determination, looking down on Pierre-Louis as if bound slave chattel, is galling at the least, and likely a civil liberties violation.

That’s Pierre-Louis' call and no one else's.

But questions remain. Big ones. Namely, where was the NAACP? And to a lesser extent, the New Mexico Office of African American Affairs?

With all due respect to Rev. N. Darnell Smith, president of the Albuquerque chapter of the NAACP, and Dr. Harold Bailey, executive director of the Office of African American Affairs, the relative silence on this issue is maddening. (It’s trickier for Bailey, considering his is a state agency.)

Is there not a moral imperative to speak truth to power here?

The stated vision of the NAACP is to “ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights and there is no racial hatred or racial discrimination.”

We also didn’t hear from the NAACP (and other strong voices in the black community) in May 2000, when it was revealed an African-American New Mexico state trooper, Dexter Brock, was sprayed with mace by a fellow trooper, forced out of his vehicle, dragged across a parking lot and handcuffed to a telephone pole. The sorry mess was photographed by other troopers.

According to the Internal Affairs report described in an Albuquerque Journal article, “officers were engaged in bantering-like behavior, absent any racial remarks.”

But the report also observes, without irony, that remarks to Brock included: “Smile so I can see you,” “What's up, my nigger?” and “You look like a survivor/victim from the fire.”

This occurred during—during—the Cerro Grande fire.

The district attorney for the area refused to prosecute. The NAACP had no comment at the time.

Brock sued, and in 2005 the Department of Public Safety paid $300,000 to settle his tort claim.

Let's get real here. Getting an African-American voice into New Mexico’s public sphere on civil liberties issues has always been a challenge. We pop up in the collective conscious every February for Black History Month, but come March we're back to being a cultural mystery.

And I'm not saying these situations were not discussed within the black community. They were, but that's part of the problem. It was an inside conversation

These times demand more voices and stronger voices. The NAACP cannot do this alone.

What happened to these two New Mexico brothers would not stand in many other states, and it should not stand here. It's time to put disapproval from African-Americans on the record for all to witness.

Gene Grant is host of "New Mexico in Focus" on KNME-5.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
 
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