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Friday, December 19, 2014

Support APD, protest brutality

I am a political science student who aspires to focus on international law. I therefore believe it was my responsibility to participate in the outcry that has resulted from the excessive brutality that has been administered by the Albuquerque Police Department. I am writing this to share my experience of a defining moment in my early career.

It all began with first round of protests following the shooting of James Boyd. I witnessed the frustration and felt the emotionally charged moment as if I was there myself; the tears running down the faces of family members of other police victims, the fire of those infuriated that this is happening in a city where their children are growing up. I knew that I had to do something — even if it was just standing with a small sign — I was going to do something.

So, on March 30, I went to police HQ downtown. It was there that I had my first experience with a protest. I stood alone on a corner holding a sign that proudly proclaimed “Citizen For Civilian Review” waving at pedestrians and police alike as I promoted my belief in civilian supervision.

Then I heard the roar.

It was a collective bellow that rolled down the street like a thundering tsunami, the pounding of hundreds of feet that shook windows. The crowd had arrived. They waved as they approached, shouting their approval of my solitary position overlooking the block. They arrived en masse, surrounded me, patting my back and shaking my hand and occupied the front of the building.

Pictures of the deceased were placed around the steps while a man gave an impassioned speech preaching peace and solidarity, he then began to chant “No Justice, No Peace” while holding his hand high in the air. He stepped down, passing a megaphone to a young woman holding a sign that showed a picture of her brother who had been gunned down by APD.

She spoke loudly and clearly despite the tears running freely down her face. The crowd hugged her in support, shedding tears with her as she shared her devastating story. She finished by simply asking that we speak strongly, to make our voices heard and to find the justice that she and so many others strive for.

An older woman with flowers in her hair spoke next. She too had lost a family member to the questionable methods of APD and she openly wept as she drew a picture of a young man that was so full of life. She sang a beautiful song, standing tall despite having trouble breathing through her grief; her voice carried through the streets and echoed high in the buildings above. She almost collapsed beneath her waves of distress; we supported her on her feet and shared our sympathy through a hundred outstretched hands.

The next 20 minutes were alike as victim after victim came forward to share their tragic stories with us. A young boy came forth and shyly uttered, “Thanks for coming here today. I really appreciate your support, APD killed my dad.” This boy’s words hit me like a train, and such ire and sorrow swept through me as I stood behind this 7 or-8 year-old boy.

A few moments of silence followed. We marched on.

Into Civic Plaza we walked, crowding around the small stage where a chant began of “WE ARE JAMES BOYD!” I walked slowly up the stairs, holding my hand out for the megaphone and standing tall as I was handed the mouthpiece.

I stared into the eyes of the crowd in silence before beginning, “We are the future of our nation, it is up to us to make the world the way we want it.” I stated, “We do not live in a police-state, we do not live in a stratocracy. The police are civil servants and we are the civilian populace. The police work for us! It is we who they answer to and it is we who pay them, I ask that you join me in demanding a civilian review board for the Albuquerque Police Department.”

We marched on. Loudly proclaiming our desire for justice and retribution as we walked towards Nob Hill, the ground shook beneath our feet and many drivers joined us with blaring horns that were met with raucous joy from my fellow protestors. The police were nowhere to be found until we arrived at the scene of a traffic accident at Central and Oak. There they stood trying to do their jobs as a mob, deaf to police commands, descended upon them.

I stood in front of these officers, blocking the multitude from the scene, forcing them around and onto the sidewalk. I shook hands with every officer there, thanking them for their tireless work and efforts to protect us.

We continued our steady push towards UNM, the crowd growing until it consumed every lane of Central, forcing cars to a halt as hundreds of us flooded around them. The police were courteous as we passed, ignoring the shouts from rabble-rousers and staying calm as angry protesters yelled in their faces. They were afraid. I could see it in their faces as we passed. The uncertainty and apprehension that accompanies any force so out-matched in size. They did their jobs, directing traffic and helping the uninvolved to stay clear of the mayhem that accompanies any protest.

At the corner of University and Central things began to turn for the worse; Neo-Nazis joined the cause, whipping chains and hate speech at protesters and police alike as they attempted to instill fear of authority into the crowd. They ran up and down the street shouting commands of rank-and-file while throwing fireworks into the throng; these are a greater menace to society in my opinion, paramilitary civilians with a thirst for blood, violence and anarchic rule.

We arrived at the end of Nob Hill, turned around, and marched back towards APD HQ louder than ever before. A woman who disagreed with the movement shouted at protesters and condemned them as villains, a bad idea in my opinion seeing as to how her car was instantly beleaguered by angered protestors. This crowd was quickly becoming violent, I could see the fuse growing shorter as the day progressed; police were being assaulted by a hundred voices that grew increasingly less reformist and more belligerent.

The cops pulled back, staying on back streets as we arrived once again at Presbyterian Hospital; a cook from Route 66 Diner dashed into the parking lot, blaring an air-horn in support of the protest. The crowd raised their collective voices to meet the horn and the hospitals windows shuddered beneath the acoustic assault. The shouts grew louder as we passed under I-25 and the over-pass quaked as our collective voice magnified.

The cacophony was deafening; you could feel the fire ignite in the crowd, spreading electrically among us as our voices joined to become a roar on par with an erupting volcano. Like a pyroclastic flow we streamed forward towards APD HQ, ears ringing and blood pumping as adrenaline infused the crowd, becoming one voice and body that commanded the streets in the name of justice.

Suddenly some yelled “The police are beating people, come on!” I knew that my time there was done, my voice had been heard, my opinion broadcast alongside hundreds of others. I saw the mood that had taken hold of the horde and I wanted nothing to do with it. I wasn’t there to get my face bashed in by police in the name of publicity, I hadn’t spent 8 hours marching to be a martyr for a cause that was quickly diverging from the ideologies that had brought me there in the first place.

I walked slowly downtown, my sign slung across my back, pausing to see the officers gathered at Central and Edith. I talked to each one individually, thanking them from the depths of my heart for their dedication and civility in the face of such rampant enmity. They were apprehensive of the young man in a suit who approached them with his hand extended in goodwill and peace.

Many of the officers were standoffish at first extremely wary of this 22-year-old who showed no hostility towards them after they had plainly seen me running, shouting and coordinating throughout the day. Slowly they relaxed, allowing me to intermingle and talk to them, to shake every hand that was offered; I looked them dead in the eyes and disregarded the hooligans who only wanted to start trouble.

I assured them that we weren’t all a bunch of disorganized, violent citizens; that the majority of us just wanted accountability on the part of the few officers that were too quick to resort to violence instead of de-escalation in the face of adversity. We weren’t all looking for trouble although there were plenty who only wanted to be loud, brash and hostile.

I shared my story with these brave men and women, telling them of my military father who became a cop himself for 15 years. I explained how my dad had experienced many of the same issues as they had with rebellious youth and a command/training structure that stressed force over discretion.

He was, in many ways, similar to them. He had arrived from the Middle East trained in violence and reactive tactics before applying those skills to civil service in the form of policing streets plagued with violence and uncertainty. He stressed to me the importance of staying aware and always being ready for a situation that you have never experienced before, explaining that every instance where a police officer meets a civilian in the field is a new experience with different variables than any previous confrontation.

I know that many of the tactics practiced by police are a formulation of a million of these encounters with police becoming increasingly skeptical of their own safety as the instances of violence rise steadily throughout their careers. How would you react if someone pulled a weapon during a routine police stop for a busted headlight? Wouldn’t you be more inclined to use force if you had been threatened in the line of duty? It seems plain to me that there are ample reasons for police to be on edge in their daily patrols.

To make things worse, APD has seen cuts in its benefits and recruitment is at an all-time low; many officers tour their beat alone with reinforcements spread few and far which leads to an even greater sense of insecurity.

In a sense, these police are in a very bad situation, they are under-funded, under-staffed and under-trained, and therefore rely heavily on the military training that so many have.

Albuquerque is not supportive enough of its law enforcement personnel, the police do not feel appreciated and are constantly being further entrenched behind a wall of negativity at the hands of the very people they are hired to protect.

I ask you now. If you were in their shoes wouldn’t you feel that the city was against you? Would you not be looking over your shoulder to make sure that you are safe in your duties?

I am a full-time political science student with a long history of fraternization with law enforcement as well as my share of clashes with police. I have been hand-cuffed and pepper-sprayed, detained and questioned, yet I do not hold anything against the police. Even from my biased view at the time I could see that they were just doing their jobs.

Support your police, push for more funding, better training, better benefits and take the time to talk with them when you can. Shake a hand or share a story, assure them that you appreciate their work and that you, regardless of your feelings towards police, understand how difficult and dangerous their job is.

I am Daniel Woods, I protested police brutality on March 30, 2014 with hundreds of my fellows, and I support the police of the Albuquerque.