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Protesters shut down council meeting

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Monday’s meeting of the City Council ended amid shouts and chaos as at least 40 protesters tried to serve a “people’s arrest warrant” on Police Chief Gorden Eden, who left before anyone touched him.

“You are walking away from justice,” protester David Correia shouted from the council podium.

Council President Ken Sanchez immediately halted the meeting, and most city employees fled the chambers as protesters swarmed the speaker’s podium and took over the dais where councilors sit.

Then a new meeting started.

The protesters – often shouting and chanting into the council microphone – called for a series of votes and announced they had unanimously agreed on votes of “no confidence” in Mayor Richard Berry and his top administrator, Rob Perry.

There were also chants of “Fire Gorden Eden” and a healthy dose of profanity. The informal meeting lasted about 30 minutes, then protesters went outside and broke up quietly.

Mike Gomez, whose son was fatally shot by an APD officer, shouts at Albuquerque city councilors

Mike Gomez, whose son was fatally shot by an APD officer, shouts at Albuquerque city councilors during Monday’s meeting, shortly before protesters took it over. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

City councilors weren’t happy.

Sanchez said he adjourned the meeting because of safety concerns. He tried calling a brief recess at first but then couldn’t restore order to restart the meeting.

He and several other councilors stayed to speak with protesters afterward, amid the shouting.

In an interview, Councilor Isaac Benton said the takeover was “disturbing.” The council had two City Charter amendments on the agenda for debate Monday, both centering on the Albuquerque Police Department, but didn’t get to either.

“It just seems like it’s been increasingly hard for us to even do our business, whether it’s about this or other matters,” Benton said. “If anything, it’s demoralizing for those of us on the council who are trying to do something about the problem.”

Albuquerque’s council meetings have been packed in recent months with people expressing outrage at the number of people shot and killed by police. Testimony intensified in recent weeks after the release of a U.S. Department of Justice report finding that APD had a pattern of violating people’s rights through the use of force.

And Monday’s meeting came just two days after the latest police shooting.

Correia, an assistant professor of American studies at the University of New Mexico, said the meeting takeover was justified. He was the one at the podium who announced the “arrest warrant” for Eden.

The City Council has “done nothing substantive,” Correia said afterward. “… This is a crisis.”

He noted that the protesters moved through their “People’s Council” meeting quickly, approving votes of “no confidence” in the mayor and Perry and calling for meaningful civilian oversight of APD before leaving.

All that came after the council listened to about 45 minutes of sometimes-rowdy public testimony, which is a regular part of their meetings. The council typically listens to anyone who signs up to speak for “public comment.” Each speaker gets two minutes.

One person held a U.S. flag upside down as people took turns addressing the council Monday, and others carried signs with messages such as “Jail Killer Cops.”

“This militarized police department we have here is a national problem,” said Kenneth Ellis II, whose own son was shot and killed by police, resulting in a legal settlement of nearly $8 million.

Alan Wagman, an assistant public defender who served on a City Council task force that reviewed the police-oversight system, said “people are dying because no one is leading this city. I wish that was an exaggeration.”

A few councilors responded to the speakers.

“I think we all have to have respect for each other,” Councilor Don Harris said at one point. “I’m just not hearing enough of that sometimes.”

Councilor Dan Lewis asked people to make specific recommendations about how councilors could improve APD.

Monday’s council agenda included two competing proposals that would ask voters this fall to amend the City Charter.

One amendment would ask voters to make the police chief an elected position, removing the job from mayoral control. The other would allow the mayor to continue hiring the police chief, but make the job subject to City Council approval.

The proposals must get at least two hearings before councilors act on them. Monday’s meeting was expected to be their first.

Sanchez said he will call a special meeting Thursday to take up the unfinished business, which includes about a dozen items in all.

“Unfortunately, this evening’s City Council meeting gradually reached a point where, for the safety of staff, the general public and the members of the Council, I had to adjourn the meeting,” Sanchez said in a written statement. “I called a brief recess in the hopes that order would be restored, but some members of the crowd persisted in disrupting the meeting.”

Janet Blair, a spokeswoman for APD, released a statement on Chief Eden’s behalf.

“We understand there are those in our community who have expressed concerns about APD issues related to the Department of Justice report,” the statement said. “We are working hard to make proactive improvements now and in conjunction with DOJ recommendations. While we welcome constructive discussions, we do not believe disruption of tonight’s city council meeting was a productive way to meet those goals.”

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