Disturbed by the use of force by Albuquerque police and what they are calling the unproductive tone of recent protests over officer shootings, a group of clergy and religious leaders have formed a new association aimed at healing the fractured city and pushing for reforms.
The Rev. Angela Herrera, an assistant minister at the First Unitarian Church and a member of the group, said last week that religious leaders were inspired to organize because of the recent police shootings and the “dehumanizing tone” of the protests that followed.
“We want to bring a moral voice to the discussion,” said Herrera, who attended a protest Downtown and said she was disturbed by its tone. “Religious leaders hope to play a productive role.”
The city is negotiating with the U.S. Justice Department over police reforms after the federal agency issued a harsh report criticizing the Albuquerque Police Department’s use of force and how it handles suspects with mental illness. Police have also faced increased scrutiny for 40 police shootings since 2010.
A week ago, more than two dozen demonstrators angry over the shootings stormed the mayor’s office and held a sit-in before tactical police arrested 13 protesters.
Last month, demonstrators crowded a City Council meeting and demanded that Police Chief Gorden Eden face a citizen’s arrest, forcing councilors to end the meeting early as protesters took over chambers and held their own mock meeting.
A violent protest in March prompted tactical police to discharge tear gas to break up a demonstration that lasted hours just as a hacker group shut down various city websites.
Congregation Albert Rabbi Harry Rosenfel, a founder of the group, said the new association is made up of clergy and religious leaders from different denominations and faiths. He said the recent events in Albuquerque pushed the group to form, but he hopes it expands beyond police reforms.
“Right now there is not a place for clergy to come together to design a religious response to what’s going on in Albuquerque,” said Rosenfel, who has met with Mayor Richard Berry on getting more community input on police reforms. “We need to see each other as neighbors. We need to be kind to each other.”
Rosenfel said sometimes egos on both sides prevent city officials and activists from coming together on proposed changes.
The group is sponsoring a prayer and meditation service Tuesday at First Unitarian in attempt to mend the community.