Human Rights News
Special Report: Albuquerque Erupts
A day-long protest by Albuquerque residents ended March 30 with police tear-gassing demonstrators and arresting several individuals, according to the latest reports. Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry said one officer was injured in the turmoil.
Sparked by the March 16 police shooting of homeless camper James Boyd, who died of his wounds the next day, the protest began at Albuquerque Police Department (APD) headquarters early in the day but then moved up Central Avenue, the old Route 66 and the city’s traditional main drag. Police had declared the protest outside their building unlawful.
It was the second mass protest in less than a week against the shootings of Boyd and other men by the APD since 2010. Sunday’s events could prompt an emergency session of the Albuquerque City Council.
As the afternoon wore on, hundreds of mainly young protesters marched from downtown to the trendy Nob Hill district, intermittently blocking traffic but receiving many honks in support. Relatives of shooting victims carried pictures of their loved ones while protesters chanted “No Justice, No Peace!” and “Whose streets? Our streets?”
While some marchers paraded with masks popularized by the cyberhactivist group Anonymous, others debated with onlookers lining Central Avenue. As a helicopter hovered overhead, a young man carrying a copy of the U.S. Constitution conversed with an older man, with the former arguing the U.S had become a police state under the Obama administration:
“The police will kill you!”
“Because that’s what they do!”
At one point, some demonstrators spilled onto Interstate 25, briefly blocking traffic on New Mexico’s main north-south thoroughfare. By nightfall, the APD and Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office moved in on Central
Avenue in force, sending dozens of units roaring up the street with lights flashing and sirens screaming.
A tense scene developed on the eastern edge of the University of New Mexico, where a crowd of protesters went face-to-face with the heavily-armed SWAT team, a riot squad in gas masks, officers on horseback and armored vehicles. In a throwback to the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, the protesters chanted, “The Whole World is Watching!”
At about 9 p.m., university officials sent out a curt e-mail that read: “Campus residents should shelter in place due to protests and police activity at Central and Girard. Please avoid the area at this time.”
Groups of protesters appeared with their faces covered by bandanas, some reputedly dabbed with vinegar to protect against tear gas. Anger, frustration and emotion seethed on the street. A young black man shouted out, well in the hearing range of deployed officers, that the problem with Albuquerque was that people were afraid of the police. “In L.A., we kill pigs all the time!” he proclaimed.
A young white man addressed a line of officers with their nightsticks at the ready, shouting that while the police were standing on Central Avenue crimes of murder and rape would befall the city elsewhere in the night. “Protect Albuquerque, our community. Don’t shoot us!” he implored.
Albuquerque city councilors Rey Garduno and Diane Gibson showed up to survey the scene.
“It’s very tense, getting worse,” Garduno told FNS. Because of the crisis boiling over from the Boyd affair, Garduno said he was proposing an emergency meeting of the Albuquerque City Council prior to its regularly scheduled April 7 meeting, adding that he would discuss the request further with City Council President Ken Sanchez, who must approve the convening of a special session.
Gibson, who was elected for the first time last fall, turned sullen.
“I think all our hearts are broken, because of events over the past several years,” she said. The elected official credited the APD for showing restraint on Sunday, and thanked a group of officers. “I’m not sure how it came to a head at this particular time, but police have shown extraordinary restraint,” Gibson said.
According to Gibson, the March 30 protests were not organized by the established organizations that marched to APD headquarters last week, but came together spontaneously through a Facebook page. Nobody was in charge of Sunday’s rolling demonstrations, she said. Shortly after Gibson made her remarks, tear gas flowed in the crisp, early spring evening.
Meanwhile, a purported threat from Anonymous may have come to fruition. APD and other New Mexico law enforcement agencies spent March 29 and 30 warding off apparent attacks on their computer systems, with the City of Albuquerque e-mail system shut down. APD’s website, too, was reported hacked by Sunday. A twitter message signed by Anonymous took credit for the cyber-assault.
As increasingly is the case with any 21st century protest and controversy, the drama played out in cyberspace. Hundreds of comments were quickly posted on Albuquerque news sites, with writers debating protesters’ tactics, APD’s actions, FBI and Department of Justice involvement in investigating Boyd’s shooting, the lot of people with mental illness in our society, and other issues. And almost in real time, independently-recorded YouTube videos of March 30 in Albuquerque were uploaded.
A story on James Boyd’s troubled life, as well as the results of a poll measuring public opinion on his shooting death, ran on the front page of the Sunday morning edition of the Albuquerque Journal. According to New Mexico’s largest newspaper, 53 percent of those polled did not believe Boyd’s shooting was justified, while 15 percent said it was. Another 32 percent of respondents did not know the answer or had no opinion.
For a sampling of YouTube videos of the March 30 events in Albuquerque:
Additional sources: Koat.com, March 30, 2014. articles by Devon Armijo and Megan Cruz. Albuquerque Journal, March 30, 2014. Articles by Rick Nathanson, Patrick Lohmann and editorial staff. Krqe.com, March 30, 2014. Article by Cole Miller and Manette Newbold Fisher.
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico
For a free electronic subscription