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Editorial: Keep chaos in check

Peaceful protests prompted by the senseless deaths of African Americans have been supplanted by violence in Albuquerque.

City officials said Monday there were 33 separate fires set in Downtown early Monday. Just about every building along a several-block stretch of Central Avenue was vandalized, and early morning gunfire broke out – after a peaceful protest ended Sunday. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Monday it’s premature to bring in the National Guard and her intelligence does not suggest it’s necessary. Mayor Tim Keller says the same for a city curfew.

We respectfully disagree.

The situation has escalated rapidly nationwide since the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, killed as a Minneapolis police officer dug a knee into the back of his neck for nearly nine minutes as he was facedown on the ground, handcuffed behind his back, pleading he couldn’t breathe. It began with a report of Floyd trying to use a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes and has become the latest example of police brutality against African Americans.

Video of Floyd’s death has rocked the nation and reignited the tinderbox of racial tensions across America, which was already on edge with more than 100,000 COVID-19-related deaths nationwide and months of isolation and stay-at-home orders that have wrecked lives and livelihoods.

Floyd’s death follows the Feb. 23 death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old African American who was jogging before he was shot dead during a confrontation with a father and son in Brunswick, Georgia. Murder charges have been leveled in both cases but have done little to quell decades of justified frustration, fear and anger at far too many similar killings.

Albuquerque Police Chief Mike Geier said during a news conference Monday afternoon at our rioting’s ground zero that the Albuquerque Police Department deployed emergency response teams to a large portion of Downtown late Sunday to stop those vandalizing property and getting violent with police. Officers reported someone fired shots at them in front of the KiMo Theater – boarded up Monday afternoon – and one man threw what appeared to be a Molotov cocktail toward police. Early Monday afternoon, city crews were still cleaning up graffiti and broken glass along the Central corridor.

At a time when leadership is imperative to bring the country together and stop the violence, President Donald Trump’s tweets have been anything but helpful, referring to the Minneapolis protesters as “THUGS” and sharing that “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” After Secret Service agents rushed him to a White House bunker Friday night as hundreds of protesters gathered outside, he tweeted that if protesters had breached the White House fence, they would “have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen.”

And this brings the nation together how, exactly?

Keller has attempted to strike a conciliatory tone with those angered by police brutality, rightfully calling the deaths of Floyd, Arbery and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky “horrifying, heart-breaking and unacceptable.” Geier said Sunday the actions of the Minneapolis officers involved in Floyd’s death were “inconsistent with the training and protocols of our department.” We should certainly hope so. APD remains under a federal settlement agreement for violating civil rights with misuse of force. Some of the most insightful comments, and actions, in recent days have come from an unlikely source, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon “Bones” Jones, who lives in Albuquerque. The embattled mixed martial arts champ who stands 6-foot-4 with an 84 1/2-inch reach confronted rioters Sunday night, taking cans of spray paint away from demonstrators. Jones posted on Instagram the demonstration had lost its meaning when it turned destructive. “As a young black man trust me I’m frustrated as well but this is not the way, we are starting to make a bad situation worse If you got love for your city (505), protect your (expletive). All you old heads need to speak up, call your young family members and tell them to come home tonight.”

Well said. As of Monday morning, the Instagram post had more than 750,000 views.

The level of violence nationwide appears to be increasing daily as peaceful protests are tarnished by those hellbent on destruction. That was the case in Albuquerque.

Both the governor and Keller should act quickly and decisively to stem the violence before someone is seriously injured here, or worse. Unfortunately, that means calling up the National Guard and instituting a curfew in the Duke City.

Keller pointed out Monday police and peaceful protesters worked together Sunday evening – with police closing intersections to make way for the marchers. That’s the way it should work.

Fast forward when a different group took to the streets and mayhem ensued. APD does not have the resources to man the streets 24/7 waiting for rioters to appear. Remember earlier Sunday, APD had to deal with an hours-long active shooter situation that forced the shutdown of both Interstates 25 and 40, along with an interstate rollover accident.

Minnesota Democratic Gov. Tim Walz activated up to 13,200 National Guard troops to control protesters in Minneapolis after the city’s initial back-off strategy resulted in a violent free-for-all. Cities from San Francisco to New York have instituted curfews.

Bolstering APD’s officer-power with National Guard troops and implementing a curfew at sundown will allow protests and marches to continue, while keeping the streets safe when darkness falls.

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.