Lena Hakim didn't know it was Good Friday.
She awoke on April 10 at 7:30 a.m. to the sound of amplifiers. "It was really shockingly loud." She looked out her back window and, as best she could over her 6-foot rear fence, saw a gathering. "I could see there were lots and lots of people behind my house in the alley."
Hakim was living on Truman just behind the Planned Parenthood on San Mateo. A temporary resident who'd moved in only a few months prior, she was surprised to see hundreds of people gathered to chant and pray.
"I went to the front of the house," she says. "I saw there was literally bumper-to-bumper traffic, and people were looking for places to park up and down the street." Some cars blocked driveways, she says.
The signs, the crosses, the music were not news to her neighbors. Father Stephen Imbarrato, founder of Project Defending Life, estimates the Good Friday event has been happening for more than a decade. "I never realized there was a problem. None of the neighbors have come to us and discussed anything, so I don't know how they can expect us to go to them when we weren't aware of the problem."
“I would have appreciated being notified about this unbelievable protesting taking place in my backyard.”
Lena Hakim, former neighbor
Project Defending Life is a Catholic umbrella ministry with the mission of stopping abortions in Albuquerque. It’s headquartered across the street from Planned Parenthood.
Hakim waited a few hours on Good Friday, then called the city to find out when the event would be over, she says. "I work out of my home, and I would have appreciated being notified about this unbelievable protesting taking place in my backyard." She walked up to her rear fence and tried to ask the gatherers when the event would be over, she says. No one but those closest to the fence could hear her over the din. "A man stuck a cross over my fence, looked over at me and said, 'Abortionist.' ” Another stuck his camera over the fence and took a photo of her, she says. "Then I was angry." So Hakim grabbed the hose.
“This has more to do with the issue itself rather than parking or any inconvenience.”
Father Stephen Imbarrato, founder of Project Defending Life
From then on, she says when someone stuck a head over the fence, she sprayed. She was cited by the Albuquerque Police Department. Imbarrato says he doesn’t think the situation escalated because of bad behavior by religious demonstrators. “I doubt there was anything on our side toward the neighbors.”
That day Hakim began collecting signatures from her neighbors in a petition she submitted last week to the City Council.
Imbarrato says his is a Christian mission, and one of peace. "The alleyway is public property," he says. "We communicate with the police. We never do anything without the police. When we are put upon, such as being hosed down, we don't do anything. We just accept the persecution, and we move on."
But Hakim says she felt threatened. Though she moved out of the house in May, she continued collecting signatures, determined to get more than 100, all from residents, she says, and none from Planned Parenthood employees. Most signatures represent a different address, she adds.
“We respect the rights of anyone to petition and to assemble in any way that is legal.”
Councilor Rey Garduño
Father Imbarrato doesn't consider them protests as much as "prayerful events." He says on an average day, only a few people pray in front of Planned Parenthood. On Tuesday afternoons after Mass, he leads a procession of 10 to 20 people around the Planned Parenthood property. Once or twice a year, hundreds turn out to pray, he says. He estimates around 300 attended the Good Friday event. But that's not why area residents are speaking out, he continues. "This has more to do with the issue itself rather than parking or any inconvenience."
Planned Parenthood spokesperson Martha Edmands says for the most part, the protesters are not too much trouble. "I'd rather they weren't here," she says. "The patients don't like them." She says she'll call the police if someone is trespassing or if the chanting and praying can be heard inside the building. "But that's really all we can do," she adds. "They have a right to be out there."
Councilor Rey Garduño, whose district includes this neighborhood, agrees. "Just like the folks at Planned Parenthood, we respect the rights of anyone to petition and to assemble in any way that is legal," he says. "It's really, as far as I'm concerned, pretty cut and dried." If the protesters are doing something illegal or un-neighborly, they should be made aware of that, he adds. Garduño spent a few years on the Planned Parenthood board in the mid-’90s and has continued to make donations to the organization.
Joe Herrera, one of the people who signed the petition, says he was excited about his new apartment. It'd been beautifully remodeled and had hardwood floors. He didn't know before he moved in about the daily impact nearby demonstrations would have on his life. "They have 3-foot by 4-foot posters of fetuses aborted," he says. "My sister one time came into the apartment with her kids. She covered their eyes immediately" because of the images that could be seen through Herrera's kitchen window. "All these kids and moms and parents walking around," he says, "it's just inappropriate." Not to mention, he says, the constant honking. "You do the math; sometimes it can be 100 or 200 honks per day."
Tom Ribe is a landlord whose rental house is near the alley on Truman. He says the protests are unpleasant to listen to, and his tenants complain. When he bought the house, he says, he didn't know the demonstrations would be so close to his property and so noisy. "It threatens to devalue people's property in that area," he says. "That's something that could eventually cause court action by residents if that turns out to be true."