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Protests and COVID dominate telephone town hall

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Questions about protests and the ongoing pandemic dominated Tuesday’s telephone town hall – the sixth one held since March by Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and administration officials.

Mayor Tim Keller

The city faces challenges “directly related to the corona pandemic and our long legacy of racial injustice that has reached a tipping point with the murder of George Floyd,” Keller said.

With the virus onset, Albuquerque acted quickly to set up a “safety net,” which included the delivery of more than 100,000 meals for seniors, offering child care to working families, providing medical care and testing for the homeless, investing in local businesses to keep them afloat, and fast-tracking some construction and infrastructure projects.

The city continues to open up as infection rates of COVID stabilize. Playgrounds in city parks are expected to open on June 15, although organized Little League and baseball games remain on hold, Keller said.

In the event of a surge, Keller said the plan “first and foremost is to pause the re-opening where it’s at” in the interest of containment, and then “targeted approaches” should there be heavy outbreaks in specific locales, such as nursing homes, offices or supermarkets.

Carol Pierce, director of the city’s Department of Family and Community Services, said special attention has been given to keep homeless people safe from coronavirus. The West Side emergency shelter has been open 24-7, giving people “space, food and safety,” and people who come to the shelter are screened for COVID upon entering.

Homeless people age 50 and older and who have health conditions that make them more vulnerable to coronavirus “have been moved out to other locations on the pathway to get permanent supportive housing or rapid rehousing to keep them safe,” Pierce said.

Keller said protests in Albuquerque have been largely peaceful, though the police did have to intervene a couple of times when “outside agitators” triggered violence and vandalism.

Michelle Melendez, director of the city’s Office of Equity and Inclusion, said training is being provided to city employees, including police and cadets, “to help them recognize their own implicit biases and to change their behaviors.”

While there have been reports in other cities of police seeming to condone the presence of armed citizens at protests, any such conduct among Albuquerque Police Department officers is prohibited and will be reported to the Civilian Police Oversight Agency, said Albuquerque’s Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair.

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