APD Ad Absurdum
Mainstream media misses protests’ point
Zak T Photography
Albuquerque has been in the news a lot this weekend, and the focus of these news stories has almost always been wrong. Almost all these stories seem to be about how the latest protests here―on Sunday, March 30, over the Albuquerque Police Department's latest killings―got way out of hand, or turned into riots, and none of them seem to be at all interested in anything other than the official stories fed by official channels to the media. Judging by social media chatter, many people who live here have been taken in by them, too, choosing to focus on rare instances of vandalism, rumors of protesters' violence, the really-not-at-all-tragic obstruction of traffic and the general sense of rowdy displeasure evident in many videos of the day's events.
Cherry-picking moments from those videos, or from that long day of multiple sites of protest involving hundreds of individuals, I have no doubt you could find some people whose behavior was objectionable, but you could do that with literally any movement in history. Just know that the cause here remains just―and know that the real story here is that APD's response to these almost entirely peaceful protests has been militaristic, armed-to-the-teeth and fascistic.
Cherry-picking moments from those videos, or from that long day of multiple sites of protest involving hundreds of individuals, I have no doubt you could find some people whose behavior was objectionable, but you could do that with literally any movement in history.
I watched firsthand, standing toward the front of a crowd of perhaps a hundred unarmed protesters on the edge of Civic Plaza late Sunday night, as we were almost completely surrounded by literally an entire police force prepared not for a group of dissatisfied citizens but for war. And that is not an exaggeration. There were hundreds of armed police, all with riot shields, batons, gas masks and guns, in row upon row upon row. The smell of tear gas was everywhere, stinging everyone's eyes and throats; and on every side but directly behind us, I could see police with their faces hidden; machine guns or assault rifles in their hands; police cars; flashing lights; and armored vehicles―the kind you'd typically see in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“We believe you now that you're not too extreme!” I shouted to the ranks of cops advancing ominously around us through the darkness, and the people nearest me laughed nervously. Because the situation was laughable. More than anything that night, that's what I saw: absurdity. Ridiculousness. That night and that day, APD was a portrait of laughable excess. They'd have been even funnier if I hadn't been worried the whole time they might shoot us.
A crowd isn't a monolithic entity. Sure, hacktivist group Anonymous was at these protests, but these weren't Anonymous events. Hippies were there, but these weren't hippie events. Punks were there, but these weren't punk events.
Earlier in the evening, I saw a similar situation, with perhaps 20 committed protesters standing on the northeast corner of University and Central, with about 60 police cars parked in the roads nearby, a policeman with a machine gun directing traffic and a crowd of police donning gas masks, shouldering rifles and staring daggers through anyone foolhardy enough to walk around outdoors. In the nearby Central United Methodist Church parking lot, just as many cars and police were waiting in the darkness, along with armored vehicles and an armed response unit, getting ready.
If you live here, get out and be a part of these protests. They're important. And there will be more. To paraphrase Skyler from “Breaking Bad,” we need to keep this city safe from the people who keep this city safe. Protest, go to City Council meetings and get informed―read anything you can on the subject―sign petitions, write letters and help make the movement one you can you be proud of. The problem is bigger than a few violent cops―the problem is a system that trains those cops to be violent and then excuses them from all accountability when they, for instance, shoot a homeless camper to death. The problem is that we have become a police state. As citizens, it's both sane and adult to demand that the armed presence that controls our city be subject to oversight and reform, particularly when that presence has had such an exceptionally lethal recent past.
And please, don't let criticisms you may have of nuances of various corners of the protests blind you to the legitimacy of the larger cause. Citizens standing up for their rights is not going to cost the city any jobs―that boring, small-minded complaint―if anything it's empowering us. And in a group as varied as the hundreds of protesters who took part in Sunday's protests, judging the whole by the actions of any small part would be silly. A crowd isn't a monolithic entity. Sure, hacktivist group Anonymous was at these protests, but these weren't Anonymous events. Hippies were there, but these weren't hippie events. Punks were there, but these weren't punk events. The inclination to portray all the protesters as the same is wrong. Only one group there was unanimously armed and prepared for violence. That group was APD. And they looked preposterous.