As I reached out across the country, letting my fingers do the walking across a glass keyboard with no real buttons upon its fragile surface, one message, more than others came back through my receiver. At least two old college chums questioned why I was still a resident in the Duke City; at least one other came clean with an admonition, stuttering succinctly in their handset that they feared for my life. Albuquerque was dangerous they said.
The day after, a busy working day in-between the iterations of holiday mirth this season is famous for, the local daily seemed to confirm the darkest fears of my old friends. Murder rates, the headline fairly screamed, were on target to reach record levels in Burque in 2017.
Embarrassed, shocked and just damn worried about this situation, I lamented the day I told a reporter in the news department to eschew covering violent crimes as part of his beat. I remember I told him that such was the fodder of teevee news, that we had more noble things to cover than humankind’s historic tendency to render solutions by invoking deadly violence on each other’s fleshy existence.
But now, I can’t get over it. The increase in violence, the rate of murder and the violence used to perpetrate crimes in Albuquerque in the past four years is disturbing. No one seems immune; even me, a hermetic rock music critic and cultural provocateur has been randomly faced with angry, potentially violent maniacs in my rather mundane wanderings through this town.
Many of the murders committed here in that time period—and beyond—have yet to be solved. An overwhelmed, understaffed police department, a lack of mental and physical public health programs, endemic poverty and youth-consuming drug addiction issues certainly fuel the awful fire that is burning up lives all over this town.
One wonders if acquiescence to and acceptance of a culture of violence, of harassment and debasement of others has contributed to the terrible strength of this mighty urban monster.
Once where there was a vital retail corridor there now is a swath of decay that runs parallel to Central Avenue, from Washington to Eubank roughly; alienation and desperation form the core of this stretch of town. Listen: there’s a huge hovel built from tumbleweeds and cardboard boxes in the vacant lot behind Walmart on San Mateo and Zuni. The adjacent streets are literally lined with homeless folks who are displaced, depressed and often drunk.
One day last week while I was parked in those same dilapidated environs, looking over all that fermenting sadness, a man suddenly jumped into the passenger side of my car and menaced me. He told me he had a gun and he wanted my car. He waved his hands wildly, motioned toward his pants-pockets nervously but confidently and asked me in Spanish if I wanted to die.
Foolishly, I stood my ground, and ultimately pushed him out of the car with my cane. I was so shocked that I rushed home to tell my wife without calling the police. When asked later about this omission, I reflected: The previous summer when my car was stolen from the middle of Downtown, it took an officer about three hours to respond. I really felt like I was on my own from that point forward; but more relevantly, the city must address the problems of economic decline, homelessness and drug addiction in this city as all contribute substantially to urban violence.
Add to that fear of abandonment by local authorities some relevant statistics. There have been 63 murders in Albuquerque so far this year. Of that number, 26 remain unsolved. That’s a substantial increase in unsolved homicides for a police department that is already facing sharp criticism and calls for reform. The result is a city on the edge, where just about every stranger one meets in public is wary.
Three headlines referencing murder dominate the local daily as I write this on Tuesday morning. There are too many homicides to list without becoming sad and agitated at work. So here are included—from this year’s record instances of human-on-human violence—the following second half of the year instances stand out as particularly heinous:
• Also in early July, during or immediately following an armed robbery in the area adjacent to Tia Betty Blue’s Restaurant on San Mateo near Gibson Boulevard, a bystander was shot and killed by a trio of humans who are still at large.
• A 14-year-old child, Martin Recio, was murdered a couple of weeks later at a Dion’s Pizza restaurant on Gibson Boulevard, near I-25. Two others were wounded in this shooting. No arrests have been made in this violent death.
Although many will argue that there is no way to prevent murder, that human nature precludes a simple solution to a seemingly ageless problem, it’s clear that much can be done to stem the flow of blood in our streets, our town, beginning with better treatment and reintegration services for our city’s poor and displaced.
Also, the atrocities suffered were usually committed using guns; in at least two cases, semi-automatic weapons were used to render living flesh into lifeless meat. Stricter gun laws should be aimed at limiting the availability of these types of weapons; moreover, fine-tuned licensing guidelines and yearly testing of responsible gun owners may well lead to fewer weapons falling into the hands of criminals.
Working as a community to establish and maintain public mental health, addiction treatment and job-training programs in conjunction with re-establishing effective community-based policing in Burque. Citizens should not be discouraged from or reticent to contacting and interacting with local law enforcement.
This is the responsibility of individual citizens and the arhats of the new mayoral administration, especially and including new APD interim Police Chief Michael James Geier. Geier—who served as the Commander for the International District/Southeast Area among other posts—will hopefully bring some clarity and resolution to the problem of death by murder in the Duke City.