“There’s something happening here/What it is ain’t exactly clear.”
I doubt I’m the only person of a certain age with Buffalo Springfield echoing in her ears these days.
After years of piecemeal attention to allegations of excessive force by the Albuquerque Police Department, there is something happening here.
The list of shootings by APD has grown to 37 in the past four years and three months, 23 of them fatal. The record as it stands today is nine fatal police shootings in 2010, five in 2011, three in 2012, four in 2013 and two so far this year.
The Department of Justice investigation into APD’s use of force, launched in 2012, is nearing its conclusion and an announcement of its findings is expected soon. Meanwhile, the FBI is conducting a criminal investigation of the March 16 shooting in the Sandia Foothills of transient James Boyd. And Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry last week said he welcomes federal monitoring while his Police Department undertakes reforms.
Those are the developments in officialdom, and they point toward a future for APD that involves more scrutiny, criticism and oversight.
And then there’s what’s happening on the streets.
To date, people have come together in large crowds four times since Boyd’s death. It’s more back-to-back protests and bigger ones than the city has seen in years. People are emotional – they’re frustrated and angry and disturbed, and that points toward a future in which things get worse for APD before they get better.
It’s a remarkable and sudden turn of events – a steep escalation of attention to an issue that has been simmering for four years. If you’re interested in understanding the history of police shootings in Albuquerque, I’d point you to an interactive history on our website, abqjournal.com/apd-under-fire. It will take you back to January 2010, when two deadly APD shootings within five days set off the first warning bells.
Last month, the video of Boyd’s fatal shooting and APD Chief Gorden Eden’s bizarre defense of it as justified was like throwing gasoline on the embers, and here we are today – Anonymous hackers, mounted riot police looking like the horsemen of the apocalypse, candlelight vigils, national news.
The second shooting on that Journal timeline involves Kenneth Ellis III. Ellis, a 25-year-old Iraq war veteran, was killed at 9 a.m. on Jan. 13, 2010, as he was holding a gun to his own head in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven in the Northeast Heights.
His father, Kenneth Ellis II, attended the first of the APD protests back in 2010. Those were small affairs, 50 or so people, many of them relatives of the men killed by APD officers.
I saw Ellis on March 25 Downtown when hundreds crowded the streets with drums and megaphones, and marched to the steps of police headquarters, chanting “Jail killer cops!” and “Killer cops have got to go!”
He seemed a little dazed, as if he could barely believe that an army of concerned citizens was now on his side.
The next protest, Downtown last Sunday, started out large and cohesive, and on point. After hours and several location changes, it turned chaotic and more generally anti-authority, which fueled a counterbalance of expressions of support for the police.
On Wednesday evening, about 200 people trekked up to the site in the foothills where Boyd was shot. A prayer was offered to the four directions, and several people spoke about the James Boyd they knew, a man who struggled living in the city and sought refuge in the mountains.
It was, for me, an unexpectedly moving affair, especially the calls to keep pressing for justice for Boyd while practicing respect and understanding for everyone involved in the discussions.
There’s something happening here, for sure. What it is and where it goes depends on how focused people remain on demanding a city we can be proud of – one in which shooting cases are investigated fully, openly and independently, where city leaders are held responsible for whom they hire and what happens on their watch, and where police are given the tools and the training and the leadership to be the best in the nation.
To waste the moment – on hacking and bottle-throwing and occupying the freeway – would be another insult to the families who have been waiting for this.