On Speaking Truth to Power
The problem with making your voice heard at City Hall
It has been more than two months since the US Department of Justice released a thoroughly damning report on APD's unconstitutional, excessive uses of force. Laying out a litany of Albuquerque Police Department's civil rights violations on our citizenry, the report seemed to ensure that change was coming. In its examination of APD's use of force, the DOJ confirmed the censure that families of APD's victims have been shouting at City Council meetings and protests for years. Meanwhile, three more APD officer-involved shooting fatalities have occurred—Mary Hawkes, Armand Martin and Ralph Chavez—and as Mayor Berry continues to evade tough questions, protesters' tactics have evolved.
Let's rewind a bit before moving forward. On Friday, March 21, APD released helmet cam video they initially deemed proof of a justified shooting of mentally ill, homeless camper James Boyd in the Sandia Foothills. Posted on YouTube, the footage garnered hundreds of thousands of views and the attention of national and international media. Public outrage prompted the mayor to call Police Chief Gorden Eden out on the “mistake.” The DOJ released its scathing indictment of APD on April 10. Then, on May 29, James Boyd's autopsy results revealed that he wasn't under the influence of any drug, including alcohol, and the coroner ruled three gunshot wounds the cause of death. According to the 30-page autopsy report, the bullets that penetrated Boyd's body ricocheted internally, leaving behind a swath of irreparable damage and decimating his right arm. The manner of death? Homicide. But there's no word yet on whether District Attorney Kari Brandenburg plans to indict Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez, the officers who shot and killed Boyd.
Four days after the release of the Boyd autopsy results, and in the midst of inaction by City officials, protesters staged a passionate but peaceful sit-in at the Mayor's Office. During those events, UNM professor David Correia was arrested on charges of felony battery on a peace officer. Twelve other protesters were arrested on charges of criminal trespass and unlawful assembly with intent, which are misdemeanors. According to reports by the Albuquerque Journal and KOAT, Berry was at a conference in New York City; the Alibi has filed an IRPA request for any and all records related to Berry's travel, meeting and conference schedule from Friday, May 30, 2014 through Tuesday, June 3, 2014. At press time, the Mayor's Office has not provided this information. While local, national and international headlines and reporting on the protest screamed “stormed” and “siege,” a significantly less dramatic sequence of events actually took place.
Thanks to ubiquitous technology, we all have access to video of the beginning of the approximately 90-minute protest. Watch it yourself at bit.ly/sitinvideo or below. That video includes the altercation that is cited in the criminal complaint against Correia. What the video shows is Correia attempting to progress further into the reception area. An officer from the mayor's security team confronts Correia, who immediately turns from the officer and raises his hands in the air. The officer then confines Correia in an arm-lock and drags him down the hall. Correia and the 12 other protesters who were arrested could jeopardize their legal defense by discussing the sit-in.
Luckily, we were able to track down a sit-in participant who wasn't arrested. According to UNM graduate student Benjamin George, Correia wasn't the first person to enter the office. George says he was the first protester to enter the office. The criminal complaint alleges that Correia forced the security door open. When you watch the video, you can see George in the background, dressed in a gray shirt, with his hands in his pockets. In a telephone interview, George stressed his belief that Correia was being singled out, as no other protesters were physically engaged by officers. George said the protesters were committed to nonviolence, and they made a point of stating that repeatedly. George spoke at length about the problem of police violence, but he also noted that not all police officers are part of the problem. As the protesters chanted, testified and read from the DOJ report, George said he observed some officers looking “sick to their stomach.” “I don't think they'd ever heard [APD abuses depicted] in that language before,” George said.
Based on video footage, Correia does not appear to batter—or in legalese, to unlawfully, intentionally touch or apply force to—anyone. When it comes to battery, the difference between a fourth-degree felony and a petty misdemeanor is that the victim is a peace officer who's lawfully engaged in their duties. In addition to teaching at UNM, Correia writes about New Mexico environmental politics and issues of social justice for the Alibi and online journal La Jicarita. But in his capacity as a protester, he is merely one voice among many. It's a collective of the most persistent voices among friends, families and loved ones of those killed by peace officers.
Angered by the molasses-like velocity of APD reform, protesters of APD brutality gathered at the Mayor's Office to peacefully and nonviolently demand an audience with Berry. They brought along letters they wanted to personally deliver to the Mayor. Protester Nora Anaya described her nephew's fatal shooting by APD while chained to an art display. At times, it got loud. But it never got violent. Even if you're not an expert on kinetic interpretation, watching the video footage to form your own conclusion takes a matter of moments, and it's an excellent exercise of civic duty. An engaged, informed citizenry is going to be vital as the City continues to negotiate with the DOJ in enacting reforms and addressing abuses of power. After all, if APD hadn't mistakenly released the James Boyd shooting video, the vital conversation about APD brutality wouldn't have gotten the attention it already has. And that reveals something about the power of the people.
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