ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Protesters made their point on Monday by seizing the Albuquerque City Council chambers and holding their own raucous meeting as city employees fled the room.
They took a much quieter approach on Thursday.
Some addressed the council silently – standing at the podium for two minutes with a fist raised in the air.
At Council President Ken Sanchez’s request, they were escorted by security out of the building, apparently for failing to make comments germane to the agenda item they’d signed up to speak on.
City security removed at least seven people in all, some of whom received a criminal-trespass notice ordering them not to return for 90 days.
Michael Gomez, whose son was shot and killed by police three years ago, resulting in a large settlement with the city, stood silently at the podium after putting a picture of his son, Alan, on the projector.
“You’re not worth addressing,” he told councilors before he was escorted out.
Two competing Albuquerque Police Department-centered proposals were up for discussion Thursday. Each 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. Councilor Isaac Benton successfully proposed that the council also be allowed to remove the chief with a two-thirds vote.
The proposals must get at least two hearings before councilors act on them. Thursday was their first, and they’re scheduled for action May 19.
Before the meeting started, about 50 activists and family members of people shot and killed by police did their talking outside the meeting chambers, sometimes with teary eyes. Then, they walked into the meeting room and watched the council, politely, for the most part.
The protesters clapped periodically during the meeting when they agreed with someone’s comments, but Sanchez warned them to settle down. After that, the protesters sometimes held up a fist silently to demonstrate their support.
They had plenty to say before entering the chambers.
Kenneth Ellis II, whose son was shot by police in 2010, resulting in an $8 million settlement with the city, said Monday’s takeover of the council was “to prove a point. We the people have the power.”
Having made that point, they didn’t try it again Thursday.
The council had imposed new rules aimed at heading off any disturbance, prohibiting people from carrying signs or congregating around the speaker’s podium.
The protesters’ action on Monday had an element of anger – frustration at the pace of change within the Albuquerque Police Department. Thursday’s words were more melancholy.
Gomez told reporters that the three-year anniversary of his son’s death is Saturday.
“You never forget,” Gomez said. “When they take away your family member, it leaves a hole in your heart.”
It was emotional inside the chambers, too, at times.
Councilor Rey Garduño appeared to choke up when he addressed Ellis at one point.
“I’m sorry this has happened to you,” Garduño said.
Ellis thanked him for the words.
It was quite a change from the confrontational nature of Monday’s council meeting, when protesters tried to serve a “people’s arrest warrant” on Police Chief Gorden Eden. The chief left the chambers before any of the protesters touched him.
The protesters then swarmed the council podium and dais, holding their own meeting, as a few city councilors stayed around to watch.
Albuquerque police have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years as the number of people shot and killed by officers – 25 since the beginning of 2010 and four since mid-March – has continued to grow.
Just last month, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report finding that APD has a pattern of violating people’s rights through the use of force.
A rundown of the week’s news so far:
- The police chief and city employees fled the chambers Monday when protesters disrupted the meeting and tried to serve a “people’s arrest warrant” on Chief Gorden Eden.
- In the aftermath, there were lots of questions over the legality and history of citizen’s arrests and whether protesters should have been taken into custody.
- The council announced new public-comment rules.
- Journal columnist Leslie Linthicum weighed in on the “circus” here.