Protesting what they say is a consistently and increasingly violent police force, hundreds marched through the streets of Albuquerque, N.M., on Sunday, blocking traffic and shouting slogans. A social media campaign, which included an apparent hours-long takedown of the Albuquerque Police Department’s webpage by the activist group Anonymous, coincided with the offline events.
The protests came a little more than a week after a video posted to YouTube by local TV station KQRE showed the city’s police department fatally shooting James Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man who was confronted by Albuquerque Police Department officers for camping in an unauthorized section of the city’s foothills.
The video, which has drawn nearly 900,000 views, was taken by a lapel camera worn by an APD officer, and showed a defiant Boyd talking to police from a distance. At one point an officer throws a flashbang, or a stun grenade, at Boyd, who then, according to police, pulled out a knife. Then, several shots are fired into Boyd’s back, and he falls to the ground.
Police Chief Gordon Eden added to the controversy when he said the shooting was “justified.”
The video and Eden's defense of the officers prompted harsh words from Albuquerque citizens, rights groups, and some city officials. On Friday, the FBI announced they were investigating the shooting, a move praised by Albuquerque’s mayor.
“I think it’s the right thing,” said Mayor Richard Berry. “We need answers as a community. I want answers as a mayor.”
But the shooting is only one of many incidents that show the APD is too quick to resort to violence, protesters said.
Days after the shooting of Boyd, and hours after a protest against APD, another Albuquerque resident was shot dead by police.
APD officers have been involved in 37 shootings, 23 of them fatal, since 2010. There’s no national record of how many times police departments throughout the United States use deadly force, but according to Micah McCoy with the ACLU of New Mexico, Albuquerque’s rate of deadly force rivals that of New York City. New York City is 15 times larger by population than Albuquerque.
Tensions between citizens and police were stoked further when the APD announced a new training program earlier this month, which critics say will further emphasize the use of force.
In justifying the new program its director Jack Jones said, “Evil has come to the state of New Mexico, evil has come to the Southwest, evil has come to the United States.”
The Justice Department launched an investigation into the ADP in 2012, but has yet to issue a report.
Protesters say they hope Sunday’s action will highlight the tension that seems to be boiling over in Albuquerque, and put national pressure on the police department to change its ways.
While the march on Sunday was often loud, and verbal confrontations between police were common, it seems to have ended peacefully even though police in riot gear and gas masks forcing protesters to disperse by blocking their way.
“(The police) have very much an 'us against them mentality,'” said Metaka Fraser, one of the protesters. “I want them to bring awareness to what they’ve been doing in Albuquerque. it’s just getting worse and worse and worse.”