Alibi V.25 No.1 • Jan 7-13, 2016 

Opinion

Toward a Peaceful Life in Burque

Heal ABQ
Illustration by Tamara Sutton
I wanted to live in Albuquerque: At night would dream of this place. One night I dreamt of a river flowing out from the Sandias; another time of houses hidden in the steep canyons of those granite hills. Of course when my family really did move here in the middle of the 1970s I was surprised to find it was like any place on Earth—filled up with humans, their lives and constructions, bright and dark and complex.

And we ended up living in the shadows of the mountains, near a school named after a mythical golden city, where it was mostly quiet.

When I moved here, I felt like an outsider and so unsettled. I came from a place in the western desert where herds of sheep wandered through our front yard daily, but also where the effects of colonialism included intense poverty, domestic violence and drug abuse. The idylls available indulging urban life or its semblance stirred up a deep nervousness in me because I deeply hoped it would be otherwise in the Duke City, that the chaos and desperation I witnessed on the reservation would not be possible in the city of my dreams.

Within three years, I was comfortable walking all over Albuquerque and having the time of my life. Other adolescents in my neighborhood compared notes, telling about how they had walked all the way to Old Town, had spoken to an long haired flower child at the truck stop by the Big I, had eaten lunch at a chicharroneria somewhere on Isleta and so on and so forth.

Besides an innocent sort youthful bourgeois wanderlust, the stories told shared at least one other aspect: No one was ever threatened or hurt on their sojourns. We came to take safety as a given, as part of the enchantment that was at the center of the myth of Burque.

The 1980s came to pass and I enrolled at the University of New Mexico. I had great hopes and plans and so did the city. Nob Hill revitalized, plans were made to remake a languishing Downtown as new residents poured into the city from all over the country and outside it too.

As the millennium approached, violence took up residence hereabouts. Where it came from is an issue unto itself. It might be the violence came from a lackluster economy or economic inequality; maybe its fearful specter is based in ignorance and the inability of the state to provide its citizens with a decent education; or it could just be a part of human nature. Whatever the hell the causes are, it is surely tearing a dangerously ragged hole in the fabric of what Burqueños expect their city to be. Stopping it is going to take a hell of a lot more than some aging hipster singing to the converts from atop a plastic soap box.

But just like the optimistic kid I told you about at the beginning, I really want to live here. So, I hope that talking about it, beginning a dialogue, is a good step toward that peaceful goal. Engendering a culture and devising and implementing policies that eschew violence and promote peace should be the goals of individual citizens as well as the government.

About a year ago, the FBI released a set of statistics that showed how our state was number two in terms of violent crime. Alaska was number one. The same report detailed trends in Albuquerque too: The rate of violent crime here was twice the national average in 2013.

This sort of documented disorder didn’t happen overnight and Albuquerque wasn’t perfect when I was growing up here. But it sure feels like the place began a downward spriral, even as I ascended at college and began my professional life in the late ‘80s and early ’90s. Some of the local events that occurred at this critical juncture of my life lent credence to that theory.

Linda Lee Daniels was kidnapped from her front yard—east of Tramway—in 1986. The stepson of a local, well-known baker organized the sordid crime that led to her death.

In March of 1988, Carlos “the ragman” Garver, a well-known local eccentric and street-dweller, was set on fire, killed by unknown assailants as he slept behind the Lobo Campus Pharmacy near Central and Yale.

This sort of senseless violence continued in the 1990s even while the city’s economy improved in fits and starts during the Baca and Chavez administrations.

In May of 1994, 22-year-old Lisa Wortman —a member of Burque’s nascent EDM scene—disappeared. Her body was discovered in a sewer by the University of New Mexico Basketball Arena a month later. No one has ever been charged in her death either; APD reports that the last credible tip in the case came in 2006.

In the current century our burg’s proclivity toward seemingly random yet brutal human-on-human violence seems to have accelerated. 2014 saw the death of two sleeping Navajo men at the hands of three South Valley youths.

In the year that just passed, a four year old was killed during an incident of road rage.

The day after the Christmas that just passed, a retired Sandia Labs technician was knifed to death outside his home in Four Hills and so on and so forth.

The police force in this city is understaffed, overworked and having trouble adapting to a community service model after having been in siege mode since the murder of two officers and two civilians by a mentally ill individual named John Hyde in 2005.

Public health services, especially mental health services are lacking in this city and state. Funds have been developed by the city to transform the Convention Center into a world class sports arena but there is still a sad, sick, hungry and frustrated group of humans drifting through Downtown constantly.

I could go on and on, but like I said, enough is enough. I don't want to dream about what a fantastic place Albuquerque could be; I want to live in the place that I expect our town to become: diverse, growing and ultimately, safe and peaceful.

Discuss.

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