Alibi V.28 No.21 • May 23-29, 2019 

Editorial

Patterns of Force

On violence and policing in Albuquerque

State Police officers and citizens in our community
State Police officers and citizens in our community
Photo by Projekt Visuals

It sure goes fast. Our narrative so far:

A UNM undergrad was shot dead by a known prior offender after engaging in a drunken, closing time fight with others at a club near main campus, in Nob Hill of all places. The shooter was out on a pass from the judge—even though he had been involved another shoot ’em up Downtown at another nightclub recently—and apparently used that free time to revisit old ways. That’s called recidivism, citizens, and it happens when a society punishes without embracing community responsibility while simultaneously commodifying values like violence and power.

The magical ability of the prime murder suspect and his suspected accomplice—alleged shooter Darian Bashir and alleged getaway driver D’Angelo McNeal—to perpetrate such a heinous crime is due to the fact that Bashir had been previously released from custody in an upcoming, gun-related case—due to a judge’s decision that was based on a new set of laws meant to reform the criminal justice system in 2017.

Besides setting off a furor about the bail reform amendment which went into effect in New Mexico a couple years ago, the crime demonstrated just how lawless stretches of Albuquerque have become.

Following this transgression of the normative by chaotic, ill-defined but nonetheless violent forces that have arisen as a result of endemic poverty, lack of proper funding and community engagement, et cetera, Mayor Keller met with leaders from all over the state and at all levels and stations of responsibility to discuss plans to bring violence, particularly gun violence, under control in Albuquerque.

Bring the Police

Among the strategies to be employed: 50 New Mexico State Police officers would be stationed in Albuquerque from various parts of the state—mostly assigned to patrol late night and early morning hours, mind you—to help with traffic patrol, callouts and to generally boost the police presence in Burque’s sprawling scene.

Weekly Alibi staffers witnessed three separate groupings of these state police patrols three separate times in the past week. All of them were on the Westside. And yeah, their presence in places where people sometimes drive very dangerously—where road rage is common, street people abundant and the after-dark shopping vibe corroded by fear of petty crime—definitely had an initially ameliorative effect on the overall neighborhood vibe, to our mind and way of thinking. After all, what could go wrong?

A History of Violence

But the response on social media—and ultimately the community response as a whole, if you have been listening, dear reader—was not nearly as supportive. Many of those locals who objected to having state police officers driving around town worried that their presence signaled outright oppression. At least two commenters in our respective news feeds were concerned that the state police presence was being inordinately and unreasonably felt in the International District, and that it was by any reckoning, the people of color in that part of town who would be most likely to be negatively affected by this brazen display of jack booted power. Or something like that.

Is this really the next step in a city plagued by crime but committed to police reform at the behest of common sense, progressive politics and federal authorities?

Certainly, the amount of violent lawlessness in this town is at at an all-time high; what do we expect as citizens, as a society? Of course the state police are operating here, primos. We brought them here through years of inaction, through years of letting Republicans advance an agenda that meant fewer government social services and more privatized incarceration.

We’ve seen some crazy things on the streets in the past couple years that one could not have imagined going down in this town just 15 years ago. The sheer number of outrageous, criminal incidents currently being foisted off on this city requires immediate and practical solutions, including more city cops on the beat.

But the current thinking on entrusting state police officers (often seen by the public as the next level in a policing authority hierarchy) with specific duties here in the metropolitan area is ill conceived. The plan may have been poorly executed and does nothing to advance a progressive agenda designed to lower crime by dismantling its root causes and instituting community policing practices.

This latest move by the Keller administration complicates political relationships for a citizenry repeatedly exposed to years of violent policing techniques foisted on a mostly brown public as a means of demonstrating power and status by the ruling class. Old wounds—emotional triggers really—were surely exposed in some neighborhoods graced this week by the presence of state troopers in their shiny black SUVs. Meanwhile, the whole thing continues to crest, as if it’s on some awful, gravitational autopilot.

The most sadly ironic thing about the violence in the city situation came late Thursday night—and it came right from the belly of the beast in the middle of Burque. Two state cops on patrol—neither from Albuquerque, one from Farmington and the other a patrolman in the Gallup area—were involved in two separate, on-duty shootings that evening.

One of the shootings happened at the busy corner of Lomas and Washington; the suspect fled, leaving locals to ponder the contagion of gun violence happening in their midst. Earlier that evening, the first officer-involved shooting happened in the valley and resulted in the arrest of a wanted man who ran a red light and was then pursued.

Neither of these encounters followed current APD policy—governed by that same DOJ settlement by the way—on encounters with offenders, chases or use of force, according to local news reports.

By the weekend, it had become clear that the idea of dropping unfamiliar, outsider cops into the milieu—law enforcement officers who are certainly competent and willing to interact positively with the Albuquerque community but do not have to work within the city policing framework that is part of the city’s settlement with the DOJ—was not going unscathed by observers in the either the community or the press.

A Community Solution

On Saturday, the crime problem in Albuquerque became the feature for a story in Santa Fe’s daily. Quoting experts who conclude that the fear of violence is often exacerbated and drawn out into public anxiety by a news media that’s more concerned with “sensationalizing with the aim of getting better ratings,” (a bunch of hooey at an alternative newspaper, by the way) the paper also quoted a rightly concerned director of the ACLU, who went on record about the elephant that is still ensconced in our city’s living room.

Peter Simonson, executive director of New Mexico’s branch of the ACLU said, “For years the Albuquerque Police Department operated with impunity, shooting and killing someone practically every month. We don’t want to return to those days. We’re deeply concerned that the deployment of New Mexico State Police officers in our communities threatens to wreck progress towards constitutional policing in Albuquerque at a time when there is still much reform to be made.”

We wholeheartedly agree.

Ending violence, especially gun violence, in Albuquerque is bound to be a long process involving delicate extraction techniques. That group of humans being evolved away from unnecessary gun violence must include law enforcement. Ultimately changing the perception of guns among a wide percentage of the population is necessary and the outcome—a peaceful, law-abiding community where police are not seen as part of the patterns of force that previously defined this city’s culture—will result.

We all need to be reminded that special masters of the Department of Justice descended on Burque to confirm what many already knew to be true—that the 47 officer-involved shootings starting in 2009 and leading up to the death of James Boyd in March of 2014 pointed to a culture of oppression and violence at APD—more than five years ago in a place where return is impossible by progressive standards.

But folks love their guns in The Land of Enchantment; that’s part of the Western mythos carved into the operating patriarchy in these parts. It’s not something that can be easily erased or even altered. Yet in order to advance, the city and state must strive for policing solutions that are in line with community values and generally eschew violence as an immediate response.

In retrospect—and despite the immediate shock value induced by seeing State Police personnel filling in for beleaguered city police officers—this particular part of the plan to eradicate lawlessness in Albuquerque seems heavy-handed. A law and order response is typical of Republican governance methods and clearly a tool from the right’s bag of democracy-limiting implements; such machinations have no part in a progressive platform.

The fact that two officer-involved shootings can already be traced to outsiders acting without the Albuquerque/DOJ agreement on use-of-force—in mind and in practice—should be a cause for deep reflection among the NMSP, the mayor and the governor, not a reason to crow that the problem is only now being properly addressed.