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How we handle this tragedy will define us

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Albuquerque is facing a difficult challenge. The officer-involved shooting of James Boyd in the foothills of our city and the subsequent video of that encounter has sparked controversy, concern, protests, anger and sadness within our community and around the world.

It has ignited debate ranging from police use of force and the justice system to how those living with mental illness are treated (or not treated) in our society.

It has prompted calls for change. There is no way around it – this is a tragic event, an event that is being investigated by no fewer than six independent agencies at the local, county, state and national levels, including the FBI.

As tragic as the James Boyd officer-involved shooting is, we should all remember that no single event or tragedy can define our city or our police department.

The same principle applies to the illegal actions by a small group of protesters that should not be used to define citizens who simply want to gather peacefully and exercise their right to be heard and effect change.

Albuquerque is a vibrant and wonderful city; full of exceptional and diverse citizens, with a police force that is made up of dedicated men and women who risk their lives each day to protect our families and our community. These officers answer hundreds of thousands of calls each year – almost 100 percent of which are resolved peacefully. That has not changed because of this tragic event.

We have an opportunity before us – an opportunity born from tragedy – that has the potential to bring us together like never before; to reform systems and to have a community dialogue that builds trust and respect for each other. It is up to all of us to grasp that opportunity and we need to grasp it now. How we go about seizing that opportunity will dictate whether we succeed or fail.

The investigations into the Boyd incident, and the patterns and practices at APD will take time. But we should not wait to get started. There are actions we can take today, while the investigations wrap up.

The foundation of these actions is important. We need conversations, not shouting matches and political posturing. We need calm and deliberative dialogue, not rogue protesters who put themselves and others in danger. We need to talk to each other and we need to listen to each other – even if we have historically found ourselves coming from passionately different viewpoints. We need to walk a few steps in each other’s shoes. We need the community to stay engaged.

We need reforms to the Police Oversight Commission and the City Council needs to take that lead.

We need reforms within APD, in addition to the 50-plus reforms we have already put in place over the past four years, including the use of lapel cameras that documented this incident in the first place. That’s the job of my administration, the chief of police, his leadership team and our officers.

Our state legislators need to ensure that New Mexico is no longer one of only a few states without Assisted Outpatient Treatment laws, often referred to as Kendra’s law.

We need to create and fund better access to mental health services, not just in Albuquerque – but nationwide.

And we need broad-based community support for our police officers. Just like protesters, our officers and their families have concerns and ideas that need to be heard and considered.

Let’s use this tragedy as a launching point for better community engagement, communication and outcomes. Let’s show the world that, when faced with a difficult situation, Albuquerque has the dedication, discipline and courage to grow from it.

It’s not the tragedy itself, but rather how we handle it that will define us moving forward. It’s time to come together as a city and forge solutions that work for us all.

This won’t be quick or easy, but we can do it.

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