On Friday, Feb. 26, local activists and community members gathered at the Albuquerque Police Department’s downtown headquarters to march for the abolishment of the heavily scrutinized force. They stood on the police department’s steps as they delivered their speeches to a crowd of about 70 people.
The demonstration took place nine years to the day after Trayvon Martin was killed by neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman and was organized by Fight For Our Lives Albuquerque (FFOL) — a local youth-led organization — All African People’s Revolutionary Party, Power Through Peace, Save the Kids from Incarceration and Allied People's Coalition.
Jennifer Marley, of the Indigenous liberation organization Red Nation, recounted the 2014 police killing of James Boyd and castigated APD’s consistent brutalization of people of color and marginalized populations.
“The people of Albuquerque, the families of those slain by the police, the Indigenous, the working class people of color and unsheltered communities have had enough of APD terror,” Marley said.
Marley then recounted the killings of Navajo men Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson by three teenagers in 2014, a park ranger’s assault of Navajo and Oneida man Darrell House as he prayed at the Petroglyph National Monument late last year, the in-custody death of Joleen Nez this year at the Metropolitan Detention Center and the fatal shooting of Claude Trivino by APD last month.
Several of the speakers — including FFOL vice president Diego Guerrerortiz — mentioned that New Mexico has the country’s highest rate of fatal police shootings per capita, according to a Washington Post database. New Mexico has now been in the top three for four years in a row.
As the first round of speakers concluded just before 8 p.m., the march commenced as FFOL co-founder Zoey Craft led the group.
“No cops! No KKK! No racist USA!” Craft called, and the procession reverberated. Signs bobbed up and down as the marchers forged ahead from Fifth Street to Lomas Boulevard. One demonstrator had fastened yellow lights to illuminate ”Abolish the Police” on their sign; another read “Jail Killer Cops.”
Around 8:30 p.m., the march halted at Lomas next to the Metropolitan Courthouse for more calls to action. Among them was Clifton White, a community organizer whose arrest during Albuquerque’s Black Lives Matter protests last summer ignited viral demands for his release.
“The power of the people is strong. The power of the people is demanding change — demanding the abolishment of all these oppressive systems,” White said, his voice filling the street.
White credited the solidarity of the community with helping end his incarceration last year, attributing his release to their protests and advocacy. White was released on Oct. 29.
“This unity here is beautiful,” White said to the crowd. ”You guys united together, and staying together brought me home. So many people behind the walls have seen this, seen the struggle, seen ‘Free Clifton White,’ seen the banners, seen ‘fuck the police’ ... That's how we change this system.”
Later, as the march continued, White was asked why he preaches abolishment over reform.
“You can't reform something that was designed to build off of slavery,” White said, referring to the exception clause in the 13th Amendment of the Constitution that allows for slave labor in the case of criminal punishment.
Since 2014, APD has been in a Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) with the Department of Justice after an investigation found unconstitutional patterns “of use of excessive force, including unreasonable deadly force.” The federal intervention by the DOJ aimed to reform the department by ensuring it’s acting in accordance with the Constitution, with largely poor results thus far.
James Ginger, the court-appointed independent monitor of the APD, was tasked with evaluating the department’s compliance with the settlement agreement last year, an undertaking that cost an initial $4 million. In Ginger’s semiannual report, the monitor concluded that APD maintained a toxic trajectory that reflects a “deliberate indifference to the requirements of the CASA,” citing serious deficiencies in training, discipline, oversight, supervision and leadership.
A resolution was passed in 2015 requiring the city and the police department to keep a record of the CASA’s expenditures. The CASA has spent nearly $34 million as of 2019’s third quarter before the records stopped being published.
While the DOJ investigation has addressed some fundamental flaws within the department — like the negligence of use of force investigations by the Internal Affairs Division — no mentions of the racism that pervades the core of policing or the animosity the department has toward the city’s unhoused population have yet been made.
For Ernest Sturdevant who was part of the initial community coalition to appeal for the federal intervention, the DOJ failed in its attempt to reform APD. This failure, according to Sturdevant, can be traced to New Mexico’s colonial past and present and the oligarchy of the military industrial complex.
“The DOJ didn't have any findings of racism in their investigation — that speaks of incompetence,” Sturdevant said.
The Feb. 26 demonstration ended peacefully around 9:30 p.m., but the echoes of the activists lingered and persisted in their declaration that APD is beyond reform.
“We have to understand that increased reform is not going to fix this system, (which) is specifically designed to harm people of color and other minorities,” Guerrerortiz said. “It's working exactly the way it's supposed to, and it's going to continue doing that no matter how much reform is present. While we welcome any new kinds of changes, we are calling for abolition, because that's what's needed.”
Gabriel Biadora is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @gabrielbiadora