Protesters rally at Albuquerque Police and Sheriff's Dept.
James Boyd's death is the latest strike against APD in recent years
Seven pairs of hands held up a black plywood coffin Tuesday night at the intersection of Central Avenue and First Street.
The coffin had a white wooden cross on its top cover. One of its sides was covered with amateur, almost blurry home photos of various men. Another side read “APD KILLED US” in blue marker.
A woman in the audience called out for a red marker, but nobody had one on hand. So the protest proceeded, and several men bore the mock coffin to the Albuquerque Police Department’s headquarters lacking James Boyd’s name.
Some 1,000 people gathered downtown to protest APD’s killing of Boyd, a homeless man who APD officers shot after finding him to have been illegally camping in the Sandia foothills on March 16. The protest was organized by the Act Now, Stop War, End Racism Coalition (ANSWER), a local activist organization.
Joel Gallegos, one of the protest’s organizers, said ANSWER began planning the event as soon as APD released a video of Boyd’s killing Friday. He said the officers murdered Boyd.
“We wanted to give people an outlet for their anger,” he said. “And we feel like the healthiest way they can let their anger out is by protesting … We want to make sure that the police department knows that we’re watching. We’re not going to take this anymore.”
The video depicts Boyd turning away from officers, saying that he agrees to leave the mountain with them just before the officers open fire. According to the Albuquerque Journal, Boyd appears “to pull out knives in both hands as an officer with a dog approaches him.” As he starts to turn away, officers shoot him. Blood is visible on the mountain rocks.
Attendees of the protest marched across the Alvarado Transportation Center to APD Headquarters on Marquette Avenue, carrying Boyd’s name on placards and barking accusatory chants at police. The brigade swarmed the front steps of the police department’s headquarters amid the uproar.
Gallegos, a UNM student majoring in education, said this was the largest protest of APD he had ever attended.
‘All James Boyd’
Relatives of other men shot dead by APD were present at the event.
Albuquerque resident Nora Anaya helped lift the mock coffin with her cane, unable to control her tears. More than two decades ago, she said, an APD officer killed her nephew, then 23.
“He was in love with the wrong girl,” she said. “She was at a party; they got in a fight. She got shot. He took her in the car to the hospital. She landed up in the car with my nephew as police shot through the window as he was driving down Atrisco. It hurts. It still hurts 23 years later.”
Anaya, who attended the protest dressed in funeral garb embellished with a veil, said she was unable to speak out about her nephew’s killing at that time. But because she felt the same despair after Boyd’s murder, she said, she came out in support of a good cause.
“The feeling is just as bad,” she said. “He’s a brother, and he didn’t deserve to be killed. He wasn’t harming anyone. He was camping out away from people. James Boyd deserved to live.”
APD has shot 23 men to death since 2010, Gallegos said.
One of these men, Daniel Tillison, is survived by his wife, Mary Jobe, and their three children. Jobe, an Albuquerque resident, brought their daughter Jazzelle, 5, to the protest. Jobe’s husband died two years ago on March 19.
Walking to the APD headquarters, Jobe, carrying a pink Dora the Explorer backpack, asked Jazzelle if she missed her “daddy.” Jazzelle, who was 3 years old when her father was killed, looked down, turned away and covered her ears.
“It was the worst experience in my life,” Jobe said. “I have three children by him, and it’s an everyday struggle and an everyday fight having to deal with my kids and fighting for their dad. Nobody and nothing will ever replace him. He was robbed of his life.”
Now Jobe has to support herself while going to school.
“We need to realize that police brutality is a lot larger than we think it is,” she said. “It’s pretty sad that it took Mr. Boyd being killed for people to open their eyes and realize that this is a big issue in Albuquerque. There’s a lot of other men who were unarmed and killed by APD.”
And she said she wishes for APD to fire and prosecute all of the officers responsible for killing her husband and the 22 other men.
“They murdered him,” she said. “The cops should be fired and put in prison for murder.”
From the steps of APD headquarters, Mike Pysner aimed to make protesters’ blood boil. Pysner, a veteran of the war in Iraq, drove from Los Angeles to join Tuesday’s protests.
“Who here thinks that those officers who shot James Boyd feared for their lives?” he shouted through a megaphone.
A resounding “no” followed with a round of booing. “Bullshit, bullshit,” the crowd chanted.
In a press conference following the department’s release of the helmet-cam video of Boyd’s killing, APD Chief Gordon Eden justified the shooting. Eden told the Journal that Boyd made a “threatening” move toward officers prior to the gunfire. Police also claim a Crisis Intervention Team failed to negotiate with Boyd, according to the Journal.
Eden’s statements further enraged other activist groups in the city.
Andres Valdez, executive director of the New Mexico Vecino United, an organization against excessive police force in the city, said he demands that Eden recant his statements. Valdez also demands that Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry fire Eden if he refuses to do so.
“Do we want a mayor who would exonerate (Eden) for such a terrible thing?” he said.
Valdez aims to meet with Eden and Berry in mid-April. His organization also intends to meet with the Department of Justice today to discuss the possibility of murder charges against APD.
“We’re asking for formal charges of murder to be filed against the officers involved in the shooting and killing of James Boyd,” he said. “There’s plenty of evidence. The video that was so blatant and vivid was enough evidence … An investigation is not needed.”
NMVU on Monday filed a letter with the DOJ to formally request to press charges. According to the letter, “what is equally disturbing is that it appears not to matter that officers engage in this type of behavior as they are under investigation by your department.”
The DOJ launched an investigation of APD officers’ misconduct in February 2013.
“There’s been many (periods) where there had been spurs of murders by police, and they come and go like a rollercoaster,” he said. “This couple of years has been one of those. It climaxed with this most recent murder.”
Anaya said authorities should prioritize looking for Boyd’s family. But in the long term, she said, APD should heighten its standards and improve training for officers to eradicate police violence in the city.
“They can’t just shoot us randomly,” she said. “We’re not target practice — we’re just trying to earn a living. We’re just trying to live like human beings … I haven’t done anything wrong, but I’m scared that I could get shot just like James Boyd.”
Valdez, on the other hand, said the solution lies in the enhancement of the Police Oversight Commission, a civilian body that oversees APD. He said collaboration and a push among community leaders would eliminate the department’s violent culture.
“We need them to be team players with us for cleaning up the police department,” he said. “We need to get rid of the human-waste disposal culture that exists within APD. Once we clean up those officers who think it’s OK to use excessive force, then possibly we can have a better police department.”
But Gallegos said only increased outrage and involvement from the public will pressure the department into changing its ways. ANSWER will hold a seminar on organizing against police violence on Friday at 7 p.m. at its office.
Protesters all aim for one goal: for APD to heed their voices, he said.
“We expect them to do as we say, because we are the ones who they answer to,” Gallegos said. “We don’t answer to APD. APD answers to the people.”