Alibi V.27 No.15 • April 12-18, 2018 

News Interview

And Without a Gun

Violence continues to plague Burque

Jeff Hartzer
Jeff Hartzer
August March
Like the flies a-coming after Orestes, the violence in our town these days seems like pay back for all the years we spent telling ourselves that the progressive values that had sprouted in suburbia and hipsterdom during the aughts had taken hold of this entire country.

In fact, in parts of the nation that had already begun to deteriorate—the rustbelt, former manufacturing centers, the rural center—violence had long been a common, though ultimately self-defeating cultural thread.

The underlying poverty, lack of educational and economic opportunities and crushing deterioration of the urban infrastructure have destroyed families, institutions, have nourished bad thought and egregious behavior—this has been going on for years. In the ’90s and ’00s, urban dwellers laughed about the dark thing’s approach.

But this amalgamation of frustration, when combined with an “I-don’t-give-a-fuck” attitude about fellow humans—whose intensity is inevitably a function of capitalism—seems to have crept into the wider world of late; some would say it’s a consequence of demonstrable violations of the social contract and democratic ideals by the leadership chosen in the last US presidential election.

Case in point: Last weekend, a man was stabbed to death in an Albertsons supermarket on Isleta Boulevard. He died Aztec-style, yo, with one deadly blow directly to the heart. But any heroic status he gained in his flight from this world to Mictlan should be measured against the horror and shame of such a crime.

I recall telling a reporter a mere three years ago—when I began my tenure at this news desk—that we shouldn’t cover crime, especially violent crime because that’s what the teevee did with such salacious presentation that outlets like us wouldn’t stand a chance against their bloody coverage.

But things have changed. The poles haven’t literally shifted but this spring seems the odd middle part of a potentially overwhelming year of events that skew toward the edge. If you don’t know what I mean, open your browser window to cnn.com and read through the top stories out loud.

In order to better understand all of these unsettled and unsettling circumstances, I met with local blogger, former colleague (at Rio Grande High School and Duke City Fix) and long-time Burque arts community mystic chieftain, Jeff Hartzer.

By some unforeseen happenstance, Hartzer was on hand moments after the stabbing I told about, exiting the supermarket after buying soda for his wife’s dance company. That experience and related subjects are what we talked about at the Frontier Restaurant on Tuesday morning.

Weekly Alibi: Jeff, what did you see?

Jeff Hartzer: We were having an event down at the AirDance ArtSpace and we ran out of refreshments. So I went three blocks down the road to Isleta, to the Albertsons grocery store. I got the refreshments and went out to the car. As I did so, I noticed two Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputies entering the building with a big bag. I’ve been trained by the Community Emergency Response Team and know first aid.

I decided to follow behind them, to see if they needed any help. Right in the middle of the store was a body. And lots of blood. A man who had just been stabbed moments before was deceased and some one else was running out the door. I suppose I did not see him. But a woman was giving the victim mouth-to-mouth and another [one] was pushing down on the man’s chest, he was losing a lot of blood. They tried to tend to the man.

Did you see any indication of an altercation or fight preceding the violence?

It was like a car wreck, like a horrible tornado. There was an enormous amount of blood, a pool about 10 feet across, worse than anything you’d see in the movies, frankly. There was a man’s body, work going on, but not much else.

Reports in the media point to a minor altercation between two customers that occurred prior to the stabbing. Could the outcome have been prevented if a bystander had been armed and intervened? Could a good guy with a gun have stopped this murder from happening?

I’m sure that’s a question the Albertsons administration is going to have to deal with, whether an armed security guard at the front door could have prevented this or whether an armed shopper could have prevented it. I do not think so. The police are trained to approach a knife very carefully—remember that when confronted with a homeless dude armed with small knives, APD used lethal force. A knife can be used in seven seconds. Studies show that it takes 23 seconds for a gun to go from holster to trigger-pull. Anyway, ironically one of the people involved, the younger man, the alleged stabber, came in to Albertson’s looking for supplies for a matanza (matanza literally means killing party in Spanish).

Is this sort of violence in the South Valley, in Albuquerque for that matter, growing, steady but typical or anomalous?

I’ve lived in Albuquerque since 1985 and there’s a myth, expressed as a pop culture joke about how all the sewage flows south in this town and that everything in the Heights is better than what’s in the valley. I don’t think this is a valley problem. This could have happened anywhere. I also own a home in the South Broadway neighborhood and we get asked the same sort of question whenever something [bad] happens there. Frankly, there’s been more violent crime recently in the Heights.

The fact it happened on a very quiet Saturday afternoon in the middle of a beautiful Albertsons—it’s one of the best supermarkets in town—is particularly horrendous. A knife stabbing is one single move from the attacker to the victim’s body. This act was done in a split second with one physical motion. The alleged murderer took a knife and hit the other directly in the heart. He bled out; when I saw him he was totally unconscious, barely breathing. He died shortly thereafter. He died before Albuquerque Ambulance of BernCo Fire Department arrived.

What’s driving this violence? Is it out of control in Albuquerque?

I think it’s out of control in this country. The whole of the United States seems to be out of control. And we are not even into summer 2018. We have not even begun the yearly Black Lives Matter protests, the inevitable protests against our president are yet to come. People have less money. They are not feeling good about themselves. Global warming and extreme weather are causing extreme pessimism, feelings of uncertainty and anxiety.

One thing I really notice about the United States, not just Albuquerque, is the lack of impulse control. There’s no impulse control among citizens now, little respect for one another. There is no discussion, no circumspection, there is just the immediate stabbing to the heart. I blame a lot of those lapses in behavior on the current presidential administration.

What’s the role of the police in all of this?

I’m in an unique position to think about my contention. In 2008, I graduated from the Albuquerque Police Department’s Citizen Academy. At that time, we had a different mayor, different chief of police and the department was going through a number of changes. But one thing remains clear. We need police officers in this town who are committed to making things better. On paper that’s an easy fix, but only 12 people signed up for the exam for the latest police academy. Seventy-one APD officers serve in the National Guard. If they are deployed to the border, then Albuquerque will definitely suffer. There is no respect anymore for the police, or for school teachers for that matter. We still want to be taken care of, but we don’t want taxes to enable that process. All of that has to do with Trump.

What’s his overarching place in all of this chaos? What is the way back to an ordered and civilized society?

Things are bad today and they could get worse. The problem with an unstable, vile, ridiculous, embarrassing president—that allegedly has relations with prostitutes and porn stars—is that such leads to a dissembling of everything below it. The president of the United States calls all journalists, except his bullpen from Fox, purveyors of fake news. He decides to get rid of DACA, has a downright racist attitude toward his predecessor, he seeks to destroy until there is nothing left, in my opinion. The people see that and I am certain some of them are thinking, “if he doesn’t care about this, why should I?” I think this president has unleashed all the inner darkness of America. Random stabbings will inevitably follow.

Radiohead: “Knives Out”