Students from UNM and other members of the Albuquerque community gathered Tuesday in the Student Union Building to target problems regarding police, mental illness and homelessness.
Six panelists answered questions and presented their opinions on the various topics. One major subject of discussion was the shootings by the Albuquerque Police Department.
“If they weren’t pulling guns out, then there wouldn’t be any violence,” said Vincente Alvarado, a retired APD officer who spoke at the forum. “Officers are people, they have families, and they have the right to go home at the end of their shift.”
Alvarado said officers are sent in to bad situations, and people should learn the consequences of pulling out weapons around officers.
On Monday morning, Mary Hawkes, 19, was shot and killed by APD. Police claimed Hawkes pulled a gun on an officer at close range.
Alfred Redwine was also shot and killed by APD in late March. Police said Redwine had a gun and fired first, but Redwine’s sister, Tammy, said Redwine never pointed a gun at police.
Earlier that month, James Boyd, an Albuquerque homeless man, was shot and killed by police. Police said Boyd was carrying two knives. In lapel footage provided by APD, Boyd appears to be turning away when police open fire.
David Correia, another panelist, said the APD uses excessive force and training does not adequately prepare them for de-escalating situations. He cited the civil investigation report by the Department of Justice, published near the beginning of April, as evidence.
“What can the Albuquerque Police Department do to garner our trust and legitimacy? Stop harassing us, stop shooting us, start engaging in honest, community policing that doesn’t place themselves outside the fabric of this community,” he said.
According to the DOJ report, officers too frequently use deadly force against people who pose a minimal threat. The report also found that encounters between APD and people with mental illness too frequently result in a higher level of force than is necessary.
“There’s a huge amount of stigma about mental health in our community and in our country,” said Caroline Bonham, an assistant professor in psychiatry at UNM. “We don’t talk about it, people don’t know how to recognize it, don’t know how to name it and don’t know how to get people into care. I think that’s part of one piece of the solution, is addressing stigma in mental health and early intervention for these problems.”
Bonham said mental health treatment is more likely to be successful if the people admitted for care have a gentle entry.
Boyd had a long history of mental illness, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
Correia said decriminalizing homelessness and mental illness and promoting care for the individuals will help prevent violent disputes between those communities and the police.
“Until we decriminalize homelessness and mental illness by getting rid of ordinances against transience, against panhandling…the homeless and mentally ill will always eventually find themselves in violent conflict with the police,” he said.
Alvarado said he agrees there needs to be an increase in mental care.
He said if the police get a call about a homeless person lying out in the street, officers are dispatched to check up on the individual.
“They have to go out there to do what they call a welfare check, to make sure that they’re still alive and still breathing,” he said. “Once they can verify that they’re alive and breathing, then we have units…go down to pick them up and take them to shelters.”