What began as a peaceful protest against the Albuquerque Police Department's systemic abuse of force and frequent shooting of unarmed civilians spiraled into chaos Sunday evening after police officers—many mounted on horses and in riot gear—assaulted the demonstrators with tear gas.
Hundreds of New Mexico residents took to the streets of downtown Albuquerque to denounce the local authorities and call for the resignation of police chief Gorden Eden. According to the Associated Press, the uprising was fueled by growing anger over the police department's "involvement in 37 shootings, 23 of them fatal since 2010."
The demonstrators marched peaceably between downtown and the University of New Mexico campus shouting, “We want justice,” and other chants, before being surrounded by the police force and sprayed with tear gas. The demonstration lasted a total of 12 hours.
Local news station KRQE reports:
After more than nine hours of protests, APD released tear gas on a crowd on Central Avenue at 9:30 p.m. Several people were also arrested near Central and Girard, after protesters and APD officers had lined the streets. A little more than an hour later, more tear gas was released on protesters near 4th Street and Marquette.
The protest was an escalation of another demonstration last Tuesday, which was called in response to the March 16 police shooting death of James Boyd, a homeless man suffering from mental illness. The FBI has opened an investigation into the Boyd killing in addition to an ongoing probe by the U.S. Justice Department into the frequent complaints of civil rights violations by the APD and reports of excessive use of force.
The leaked video depicting the murder of James Boyd has brought "a lot of people out and a lot of attention to this situation" which has been ongoing for generations, David Correia, an organizer with the Task Force for Public Safety, told Common Dreams.
According to Correia, who has been working with families of victims of APD violence, the violence in Albuquerque is not unique to this city. However, he notes that Albuquerque suffers from some of the highest rates of police violence in the country, as well as overwhelming poverty. Many of those killed, he says, are "chicano, native; many are homeless and mentally ill."
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We can't get around the fact that we are talking about [...] the intersection between law, police, poverty and violence. James Boyd perfectly captured this. He laid his head down to sleep and this was a criminal act. Instead of waiting him out, the police decided to draw on their military training and militarized weapons. The only difference is that it was caught on film.
[His murder] really draws attention to the very specific problems—violent culture, incompetent leadership [and] structural issues around poverty, criminalization of homelessness, criminalization of mentally ill—that all effects what happens on our streets.
Organizers are meeting tonight to discuss demands as well as future direct actions which, Correia says, will happen over the course of the next two weeks.
— Aaron Sweet (@AaronCSweet) March 31, 2014
— David Correia (@DavidCorreiaUNM) March 31, 2014