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Editorial: Council protesters hurt the process, APD reform

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“I support the redress of government. That’s what that was. I don’t see it as anything else. No one got hurt.”

– Albuquerque City Councilor Rey Garduño

If a group of 40 Americans, unhappy with the direction of the country, decided to show up in the Rose Garden with bullhorns, barge into the Oval Office, jump behind the president’s desk shouting profanities and claim to be serving a “people’s arrest warrant” on President Barack Obama, would that constitute a “redress of government”?

Absolutely not.

What it would constitute is uncivil discourse, a disregard for democratic systems and a threat to public safety and to our elected officials.

And that, and only that, is what happened in Albuquerque’s City Council chambers Monday night when protesters stormed the speaker’s podium, took over the dais where councilors sit, and went “Jerry Springer Show” on the mic after everyone with an official reason for being there had wisely departed.

What did not happen is anything productive that will even begin to reform the troubled Albuquerque Police Department and its mechanism for civilian oversight. On Monday’s aborted agenda were two proposed City Charter amendments centering on the APD chief, converting it to an elected position or requiring City Council approval of the mayor’s pick.

But those important reform ideas were silenced by the likes of David Correia & Co.

Correia, a University of New Mexico assistant professor, tried to justify his inappropriate and illegal conduct by saying the City Council has “done nothing substantive.”

And because he chose inciting a near-riot over participating in a constructive debate focused on positive change, it still hasn’t.

If, as Garduño says, the high point of Monday’s devolvement is that no one was hurt, it’s in great part because Chief Gorden Eden left Council Chambers before protesters threatening to arrest him could move beyond public disturbance to assault and battery.

Garduño’s facile statement ignores the damage done to a democratic process predicated on constitutional free speech guarantees and constructive debate with civil mechanisms to push for productive change. And while some of Eden’s statements regarding the most recent of APD’s fatal shootings are open to criticism – and have been criticized in Journal editorials – the conduct by Eden’s officers was exemplary during a protest last month, as was his Monday night.

Meanwhile, Council President Ken Sanchez allowed a rowdy crowd to dominate with very little resistance. It is essential not only for a productive meeting but a safe one, that come Thursday’s do-over he insists on maintaining order and ensures that adequate security is on hand so that rather than abandon Council Chambers he can order it cleared if participants refuse to behave.

Sanchez also should talk with APD about serving a “real arrest warrant” for Correia and several others who took over the meeting. Under city ordinance 2-1-11, “It shall be unlawful to disturb any meeting of the City Council or of any committee thereof, or to behave in a disorderly manner at such meeting.” Possible penalties include a fine not exceeding $500 and/or imprisonment not exceeding 90 days. And he should check with the City Attorney’s Office regarding either banning these rabble-rousers or getting a restraining order to keep them from future meetings until calm is restored.

Garduño might really believe that Monday night was an exercise in government redress, but even he should understand Albuquerque can not be subject to mob rule and lawlessness. The real issue at hand is a police department that has been found by federal investigators to abuse its authority and use of force.

And two wrongs will not make that right.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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