On Raised Voices and Structural Inequality
APD protest won’t end until justice is served
By Benjamin J. George
On Monday, May 9, approximately 40 activists gathered outside City Hall to protest the City’s decision to ban the “Burqueno 13” from 1 Civic Plaza. The Burqueno 13 is comprised of those activists arrested at the Mayor’s Office for demanding to meet with Mayor Berry to discuss how the city can best end the problem of police violence in Albuquerque. The City’s repressive measures in response to those arrested prohibited them from attending the City Council meeting convened that night, so activists stood in solidarity with the Burqueno 13 and their right to access the halls of city government.
Benjamin J. George
Indeed, the city’s punitive ban is illustrative of broader socioeconomic problems besetting the city and Berry’s political decisions about how to deal with them.
Banning someone from public property effectively translates into the criminalization of public space: Some people are granted the right to access that space while others are not.
Banning someone from public property effectively translates into the criminalization of public space: Some people are granted the right to access that space while others are not. Moreover, restricting access to public space often goes hand in hand with other restrictions, like being restricted from private space, such as a home, or being financially capable of accessing our privatized healthcare system. In the wake of the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression—in which millions of people lost and continue to lose their jobs and homes—many formerly hard-working, tax-paying families and individuals are now forced to endure the hardships of homelessness. Since their usefulness as taxpayers, workers and consumers has terminated, the homeless are no longer able to consume private spaces and are thus limited from public spaces, as well.
Casually dressed and well-groomed, with money in my pocket and standing outside a local business, I am perceived as a potential customer rather than as a deterrent to other potential customers. When mountain biking through open spaces like the Sandia Foothills, I am just another middle-class individual enjoying the fruits of his tax dollars. In either case it's unlikely I would attract police attention. But as soon as I lose my precarious footing in society—as soon as I am thrown into the privation of homelessness—I am no longer perceived as a valuable member of society; I am rather its antithesis. In a word, the homeless in this society are rendered disposable and marked for death.
The only action the Mayor has taken is effectively banning himself from public space and community dialogue, leaving the system that generates homelessness and police violence unaddressed.
If this seems abstract or theoretical, all we need to do is look at the case of James Boyd. Being mentally ill in a society that privatizes its health care—unlike other industrialized Western nations—Boyd had difficulty holding a job and thus accessing a home. Taking shelter in the Sandia Foothills—a site that hosts many of our city’s richest community members—Boyd was murdered by police because he was banned from both public and private space. Boyd was murdered because he was of no value to society: He was disposable.
Many people in Albuquerque are, like Boyd, homeless for one reason or another. Our city has a dearth of adequate services designed to help the homeless get back on their feet. Additionally our city has a police force that perceives the homeless—especially the mentally ill—as threats who merit extermination rather than humans in need of care and support. What these facts have in common is that they are all politically manufactured. Berry could allocate proper funding to help the homeless and mentally ill. He could insist on proper police training that would ensure police interactions with the most vulnerable members of society do not end in fatalities. He could insist all police who neglect to turn on their lapel cameras be fired. Just as District Attorney Kari Brandenburg could indict police officers the DOJ found to have violated people's constitutional and civil rights, Berry could deem those violations a fireable offense.
But the Mayor has undertaken none of those simple measures. In fact, the only action the Mayor has taken is effectively banning himself from public space and community dialogue, leaving the system that generates homelessness and police violence unaddressed.constituency—membership in the Economic Forum costs $2,600 a year—rather than their public constituents. The intent of activists was to make it clear that Berry can't hide behind carefully orchestrated public relations campaigns. And he can not cater solely to the wealthy while ignoring the welfare of the majority, the rest of us. Activists protested to declare their intention: They will not abandon their civic duty. They will hold the Mayor accountable for the unlawful police violence in Albuquerque.
And why won’t the activists cease their protest? Because people like a man who randomly stopped by the latest protest outside City Hall—who shared a story of being shot by APD inside his home for no reason—continue to exist within a system without accountability. In the words of the DOJ, we must end the “pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force” routinely employed by the Albuquerque Police Department. And until there is justice, there will be no peace.
For more information or to take action, visit apdprotest.org.
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