Protesters filled Albuquerque City Hall on Monday evening, forcing the city council to clear its legislative agenda and turn the podium over to citizens furious with police over a spiking number of fatal shootings.
City Council President Ken Sanchez told the Albuquerque Journal that more police officers would be assigned to make sure the meeting was peaceful, and that the meeting would be adjourned if tempers flared, but said the council is mulling legislation that would create more oversight over the department.
“We need to make some dramatic changes,” he said. “We’re confronting a crisis situation at this time.”
Tension have been building between police and the public for years. Wynema and Michael Gonzagowski told Cindy Carcamo of the Los Angeles Times that, upon moving to Albuquerque, friends warned them to avoid the police. They did not take those warnings seriously until they watched police fatally shoot their neighbor, Alfred Lionel Redwine on March 25.
“I’ve never been scared of crops, but out here, the cops terrify me,” said Michael, age 39. “They treat you like you’re out looking to cause trouble every time they talk to you.”
Chief Eden said in a press conference that Redwine brandished a weapon and shot at police during a standoff at a public housing complex, forcing the officers to return fire. Wynemda Gonzagowski disagreed, telling the Times that Redwine had surrendered to police with his arms out when he was hit.
“They didn’t warn him, they didn’t tell him to freeze and get on the ground or to put his hand behind his hand,” she said.
The latest resident to die was James Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man who was shot in the back by officers who approached him when he appeared to be illegally camping in the Albuquerque foothills. Video of the shooting was made public and quickly went viral, inciting outrage from throughout the New Mexico community and attracting international headlines.
Hundreds of people have rallied since the Boyd shooting. At least one of the demonstrations turned violent, with protesters lobbing rocks and bottles. The police, led by Chief Gorden Eden, responded by donning riot gear and firing tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowd.
Such events have inspired a rare moment of agreement between a city official and the American Civil Liberties Union. Inspired by the Boyd shooting, the ACLU announced it would use Monday night’s meeting to demand that a federal monitor be instituted to oversee the APD with the power to implement his own reforms. Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry also asked that the Justice Department begin to monitor the department and help the city move past its newfound reputation.
“We have now become the embarrassment of the nation, if not the entire world,” Ralph Arellances, director of the League of United Latin American Citizens’ New Mexico chapter, told the lawmakers Monday night. “We are outraged by this and our fight against this will only grow louder and more united with larger number until we see change.”
Meanwhile, the US Department of Justice has announced that, on the heels of a series of demonstrations protesting police brutality, it will release the results of its year-long civil investigation into the Albuquerque, New Mexico police department.
The Justice Department said Monday that it would release the results of an agency investigation into civil rights violations and allegations that police regularly use excessive force no later than Thursday. The police department, which has spent 16 month under the Justice department’s magnifying glass, has come under intense public criticism after 37 police shootings, 23 of them fatal, have come since 2010.