U.S.
Russell Contreras/AP

Protest against Albuquerque police turns into ‘mayhem’

One police officer injured in protests sparked by what residents call an increasingly violent police force

A protest over deadly police shootings in Albuquerque, N.M., turned from a peaceful demonstration to “mayhem,” the city’s mayor said late Sunday, as officers in riot gear clashed with protesters.

Objecting to what they say is an increasingly violent police force, hundreds of city residents marched through the streets of Albuquerque on Sunday, blocking traffic and shouting slogans. A social media campaign and an apparent hours-long takedown of the Albuquerque Police Department’s (APD) Web page by the activist group Anonymous, coincided with the demonstration.

But the confrontation between police and protesters escalated, with reports of Albuquerque police and Bernalillo County sheriff's deputies using tear gas and charging at the crowds, which had mostly dispersed by late Sunday.

Richard Berry, mayor of Albuquerque, said one police officer was injured. At one point, protesters trapped police in a vehicle and tried to break the windows, The Albuquerque Journal reported. Berry didn’t know of any arrests, and multiple messages left for the APD weren’t immediately returned. Video by KRQE-TV showed people being led away in restraints, but it was unclear if those people were arrested.

The protest came a little more than a week after KQRE posted a video to YouTube showing city police officers fatally shooting James Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man they confronted for unauthorized camping in 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 shows a defiant Boyd talking to police from a distance. At one point an officer throws a flashbang, or stun grenade, at Boyd, who then, according to police, pulls out a knife. Then officers fire several shots 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 is would investigate 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 Boyd’s shooting and hours after the protest, police shot another Albuquerque resident dead.

APD officers have been involved in 37 shootings — 23 of them fatal — since 2010. There is 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, the APD’s deadly force rate rivals the New York Police Department’s. New York City has 15 times as many residents as 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, New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy 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 tensions that seem to be boiling over in Albuquerque and will put national pressure on the police department to change its ways.

“[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.”

Al Jazeera and wire services

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