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Activist arrests end in settlements, good food

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

La’Quonte Barry takes a break from work at his food truck in a Northeast Albuquerque park Saturday afternoon. He started the business with money he received from a settlement with the city. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

In July, at the height of the protests in Albuquerque for racial justice, two Black men were the only people charged after the city banned guns on Civic Plaza.

La’Quonte Barry, 32, and Francisco “Frankie” Grady, 40, leaders of the Black New Mexico Movement, had taken guns to a rally they were holding one Sunday and were promptly detained by officers. They were charged with unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon on school premises – a fourth-degree felony.

The charges set off a legal tizzy and were soon dismissed by the 2nd Judicial District attorney, who asked the state attorney general to determine whether the city’s administrative instruction designating Civic Plaza and other places as “school premises” even when no school activities are taking place is constitutional. The AG advised the DA that a similar case was pending in court, and his office should not prosecute any cases that could be seen as unequal enforcement or discrimination.

Barry and Grady quietly settled civil cases with the city for $40,000 each in November.

Francisco “Frankie” Grady, left, and La’Quonte Barry, center, argue with an APD officer during a protest at Civic Plaza on July 19. Both men were later detained by police and charged with bringing a gun onto school premises. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Barry, a Tennessee native who moved to Albuquerque 16 years ago, used his payment to quit his job and buy a food truck. Now he’s serving up his family recipes of brisket, ribs, turkey legs and more with the help of his grandmother. In fact, the business is named “Grandma’s House BBQ.”

Grady moved back to South Carolina, where he works as a medic in an intensive care unit. He paid his daughter’s college tuition and bought her a car, he said.

Over the past several months, Barry has worked with the Albuquerque Police Department as part of its Community Ambassador Program. He said he talks with Interim Chief Harold Medina regularly, and the city’s top cop even visited his food truck at a Northeast Albuquerque park – posing for photos and writing on Twitter that it was great food and “well worth the drive.”

APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said Medina and Barry have “been working on a number of ways to improve APD’s relationship with the community.”

“As an example, officers worked with Mr. Barry and the Black New Mexico Movement, and the New Mexico National Guard to deliver 35 food boxes filled with Thanksgiving foods to University of New Mexico Hospital to support nurses on the front line of the medical field,” Gallegos wrote in a statement.

Reflecting on how things have changed since that day six months ago when he was handcuffed, escorted to the police station and detained for about 40 minutes, Barry said that while there’s a long way to go to reach equal treatment of minorities, he does think things are starting to get better.

“I feel like we’re in a position now that we can (get to) where America truly is supposed to be,” Barry said. “It’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to change overnight, but I do feel like there is some type of change happening in the world.”

Equal protection

Barry and Grady were detained by police for carrying guns on July 19.

Three days earlier, mostly white, heavily armed members of the New Mexico Civil Guard – a self-styled civilian militia group – who attended a “Protest for Freedom” at the plaza in opposition to the state’s public health orders had only been given warnings.

An APD spokesman has previously said officers approached about 10 members of the Civil Guard, told them to put their weapons away, and they complied. He said the signs about the ban had been torn down so they were not detained.

A settlement demand letter written by attorney Ryan Villa, who represented both Barry and Grady, cites the difference in treatment as a violation of equal protection and an example of how APD selectively enforced the law.

La’Quonte Barry and his grandmother, Cornelia Barry-Seidel, take a break from their food truck, Grandma’s House BBQ, before the lunch rush starts at a city park Saturday. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Furthermore, the letter says, the activists did not have time to put their guns away after they were warned.

“Though Mr. Barry intended to comply, he never had the chance as he was arrested just 2 minutes later,” the letter states. “He was handcuffed and taken to the police station where he was held in handcuffs until approximately 3:47 p.m. when he was issued the citation and released. This was an illegal arrest and detention as Mr. Barry had violated no law.”

APD spokesman Gallegos said a third man – a white attendee of a counterprotest – was also detained and cited for carrying a gun, but the citation was given to a different clerk at Metropolitan Court than the one who accepted the citations for Grady and Barry.

That clerk rejected the citation, stating police can’t cite for a felony, according to Gallegos.

The charges against Barry and Grady raised questions for the district attorney as well.

After Barry and Grady were charged with carrying a gun on a school’s premises, DA Raúl Torrez wrote to the attorney general asking for an opinion on whether Civic Plaza can be considered “school premises” based on past school activities, as the city contended, and whether the city had overstepped its authority to regulate firearms.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas sent a response to Torrez, the city attorney and the city’s chief administrative officer in mid-September. Balderas cited the fact that a lawsuit had already been filed regarding a similar gun ban at community centers. Balderas said that while that decision was pending, “we advise the Second Judicial District Attorney refrain from prosecuting cases that create an unequal enforcement context that may discriminate against protected classes.”

A spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office said Torrez has not told APD not to arrest people under the order.

“We did inform them that we would not prosecute cases under the directive in light of the legal ambiguity and concerns about its constitutionality,” spokeswoman Brandale Mills Cox said.

In response to questions about the gun ban at Civic Plaza, a city spokesman said the ban at “community centers and parks” is still in effect and “is a key part of our commitment to keeping kids and public spaces safe.”

“Without in-person school, more kids than ever are utilizing City community centers, parks and spaces,” spokesman Matt Ross wrote in an email. “Especially given what we’ve seen at government buildings, including the bomb threat … at City Hall and the Capitol insurrection, these are commonsense rules​. And they have been effective: ​​Since the arrests last year, we are not aware of anyone trying to violate the ban.”

Ross said that to ensure that the ban is not targeting certain groups, APD and other city departments use a standardized process to inform people that they can’t carry deadly weapons there, and give them a chance to comply.

“Officers may then take additional action up to and including arrest,” Ross said.

Building community trust

Both Barry and Grady said they were glad they could come to a settlement with the city and move on, but they don’t feel that the case brought about reform.

Barry said that’s the reason he decided he would work with the interim chief and with APD to try to build trust within the community.

He said he initially got some resistance from those who questioned why he would work with the department when so much anger and frustration had been aimed against law enforcement following the death of George Floyd.

“We’ve got to realize the police aren’t going anywhere, no matter how many people in this world say they stand up for ‘abolish (the police),’ we can’t get rid of the police system. …,” Barry said. “At this point, we’ve got to figure out how can we work with them and not against them and how can we get them to understand our issues.”

He said that although protests for racial justice have slowed, and he’s hopeful about other avenues for effecting change, he won’t shy away from taking to the streets again.

“We know there’s still change that needs to happen,” Barry said. “If we say that change has already happened and just stop everything that we’ve worked so hard for, then we’ve failed. My fight is still, at the end of the day, going to be for Black lives, minorities, or anyone who is being done wrong by someone who is supposed to lead and protect.”

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