Alibi V.19 No.38 • Sept 23-29, 2010 

Council Watch

A Deadly Force

A range of public reactions to Albuquerque Police Department shootings took center stage at the Monday, Sept. 20 City Council meeting. So far this year, there have been 11 officer-involved shootings, and seven people have died. Brian Swainston and several other men said they saw the most recent incident, which happened Downtown on Tuesday, Sept. 14. Officer Leah Kelly shot Chandler Barr, who was cutting himself with what was later discovered to be a butter knife. Police Chief Ray Schultz says Barr lunged at Kelly.

The witnesses at the Council meeting said the officer did the right thing during a frightening situation. “I was there. I saw it,” Swainston said. “It was very alarming. If it weren’t for the officer, bad things would have happened.”

Another half-dozen people said they were concerned with the number of shootings and suggested that the police department implement additional training about how to resolve conflicts without using deadly force.

Several people, including Andres Valdez from Vecinos Unidos, asked why less-than-lethal options are not being used by police, “Do they always have to get shot and killed?”

Nearly a dozen people who looked to be police officers, including union president Joey Sigala, wore black T-shirts stating: “A society which chooses to wage war against its police shall be forced to make peace with its criminals.”

Darren White, the city’s director of public safety, said one reason for the high number of shootings is that Albuquerque is on the violent side. Chief Schultz said officers often only have seconds to react. The city has hired a private group called Police Executives Research Forum to analyze the department and see what can be done differently. Though councilors took no action, there was a fair amount of discussion between the chief and the Council.

Councilors also deferred accepting several Police Oversight Commission reports from 2009 and 2010 until October. Several councilors had questions about the submitted reports, but the chair of the oversight commission was not present to answer.

See the numbers of officer-involved shootings since 2004 on in this week’s Letters section.

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Break Down the Nukes

A resolution would ask the federal government to pay extra money to the Pantex Plant, so the facility can accelerate dismantling more than 2,000 nuclear weapons stored on Kirtland Air Force Base. Pantex Plant is near Amarillo, Texas, and is the only company in the nation that dismantles nuclear weapons. Councilor Rey Garduño’s resolution says the stockpiles are a threat to the health and safety of everyone, and in particular the people in the Albuquerque area. One person presented a long banner made up of 2,080 stamp-size pictures that she said represented thousands of nukes sleeping in the hills. Charles Powell of Veterans for Peace presented a petition with 10,000 signatures urging the Council to pass this resolution.
After several people spoke in support of the measure, Councilors Trudy Jones and Dan Cook said they did not support it. They said they do not feel it is the Council’s place to tell the federal government what to do about something this complex. Cook said it was irresponsible when one citizen showed an aerial Google map and approximated the location of the stored nukes. Councilor Isaac Benton said following international nonproliferation treaties is a moral imperative of local governments. Garduño said it was time the city played a role in removing devices of mass destruction that lie near city fence lines. The measure failed on a 5 to 4 vote. The five councilors (Cook, Jones, Brad Winter, Don Harris, Dan Lewis) who voted against sending a powerful message were shortsighted. It does not hurt the city or cost one thin dime to ask the feds to pay attention to the problem of stockpiled old nuclear warheads. The Council would be asking the federal government to put up some extra money to ensure the safety of not only our city and state, but the entire world. The 40-year-old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty spells out three goals guiding the globe toward peace. The first is the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, then the disarmament of existing weapons and the right to peacefully use nuclear technology for other uses, such as electricity. These are good policies every country, and every human, should work toward. Like those “no nuke” billboards say: It began here, let it end here.

Mayor Richard Berry sent a message down to the Council and city residents that he would like everyone to clean up their corner of the city. Tens of thousands of people from all over the world are expected to flood Albuquerque when the annual Balloon Fiesta lifts off on Saturday, Oct. 2. Berry would like the city to display its beauty—not its trash. So head over toward Alameda and Balloon Museum Drive (the entrance to Balloon Fiesta Park) from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Sept. 25, to grab some cleanup provisions. The city will give out bags, gloves, snacks and other goodies to pump up volunteers about beautifying their yards and neighborhoods.