Editorial: The Long Distance Call

Don’t Cry Baby, Don’t Cry

August March
5 min read
The Long Distance Call
The city of Albuquerque seen from the Sandia Mountains (SeanGV)
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“It was a dry wind/ And it swept across the desert/ And it curled into the circle of birth/ And the dead sand/ Falling on the children/ The mothers and the fathers/ And the automatic earth/ These are the days of miracle and wonder/ This is the long distance call/ The way the camera follows us in slo-mo/ The way we look to us all, oh yeah”—“The Boy in the Bubble” by Paul Simon.

I spent the last couple of days looking at, discussing and subsequently responding to reactions elicited by a lapel camera recording of an Albuquerque Police Officer
—made on June 16—chasing and killing a human male who allegedly robbed a mobile phone store in the Heights at gunpoint and then gravely intoned, “It’s on” to his accomplice as officers gave chase.

It is very difficult to watch that transmission from Earth, from a place called Albuquerque, called home. The events in the video, including the killing, all transpired in a neighborhood with which I am very familiar. I visit the Smith’s grocery store in the student ghetto daily; I have been doing that for more that 30 years. Once I wrote a poem that parodied Ginsburg’s “
A Super Market in California” about that crazy, sometimes chaotic but always memorable place. That writ was published 10 years ago at Duke City Fix and its sentimentality and optimism are far away voices compared to what transpired there of late.

Ghetto Smith’s—as it is sometimes referred to by locals—hasn’t changed so much as the world around it has been altered by city-wide crime that is apparently driven by cruel, yet ultimately repairable circumstances like
drug addiction, behavioral health issues and endemic poverty.

Overall, this iteration of a national chain is pretty decent. But just outside, I’ve seen at least two unfortunate folks camping out at market’s edge. One fellow is a person with whom I went to art school. One of his steel sculptures graces Bart Prince’s yard. He goes on and on about the apocalypse if approached; I haven’t inquired of his fellow traveler though I know in my heart the surrounding city wasn’t so desperate in my youth.

Anywho, according to city officials who briefed the press on the sustained chase, gunfight and fatal confrontation whose terminus was at the Smith’s on the corner of Yale Blvd. and Coal Ave., APD officer Jonathan O’Guin shot a suspect numerous times after the man, Richard Rivera, had allegedly engaged in a violent, week-long, methamphetamine-driven crime spree.

At two points in the video, the van Rivera is riding in stops on its own and gunfire is exchanged; both times this happens in broad daylight in the middle of the student-and faculty-dominated neighborhood immediately south of UNM, between Central Ave. and Garfield Dr. SE. The third time O’Guin encounters Rivera, he performs a PIT maneuver, forcing the van to stop. Rivera runs. O’Guin gives chase, warns Rivera twice and then shoots him dead. One can only speculate what the alleged criminal’s plan was once he had entered the relative safety of a crowded grocery store.

And there’s the rub. Besides a surreal quality to the events unfolding themselves on tape, it’s also quite clear that, throughout the ordeal, officer O’Guin keeps his cool; he seems focused and non-emotional—except for about three seconds when he taps impatiently on his cruiser’s shifter—as he pursues two individuals who had allegedly been actively and repeatedly engaged in very violent behavior toward other citizens.

At the same time I was reviewing the aforementioned lapel-camera recording, a former contributor to
Weekly Alibi sent me a proposed op-ed that called for the end of APD, saying that the reform process—which includes a much-needed rewriting of the department’s use-of-force policy—was doomed; that citizens should begin discussing an alternative to a police force, but only after the troubled model encountered by too many in this town was abandoned.

Such beliefs and supposed calls to action are short-sighted and are not productive. A well-trained, responsive and community-minded police force is essential to this city. In order to combat the rising tide of crime in this city, citizens must continue to proactively engage the police force and work together for solutions. Plans for implementing and maintaining community policing in Albuquerque must be kept on track. More importantly, the administration of Tim Keller needs to keep working on real-time solutions for the social problems that continue to drive crime in the Duke City.

Finally, it appears that the actions of APD officer Jonathan O’Guin were justified.
Weekly Alibi certainly does not condone extra-judicial killings, but the facts in the case and the outcome are both clear: This city’s police will not tolerate the sort of lawlessness imagined in “Breaking Bad” and violent criminals should not idolize the series or activities portrayed within it, either.

O’Guin’s professional demeanor, focus and stoic determination to do his job protecting the people of this city are laudable. Though the death of any sentient individual through violence should be avoided, O’Guin potentially saved numerous lives that day through quick-thinking, keen marksmanship and a
solid sense of duty to the citizens of this town.

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