For many citizens of Albuquerque, New Mexico, the shooting by police officers of James Boyd, 38, a mentally ill homeless man, was the last straw.
Unfortunately, Boyd was not the last to be killed by officers who, the U.S. Justice Department charges, “too often use deadly force in an unconstitutional manner in their use of firearms.”
The community is up in arms, with activists announcing their intent to make a citizen’s arrest on the police chief and city officials blocking protests at council meetings.
Under fire over 39 police shootings involving 24 fatalities in the city since 2010, the Albuquerque Police Department was accused by Justice of a pattern of excessive force. The report concluded the majority of officer-involved shootings resulting in fatalities from 2009 to 2012 were “unconstitutional.”
Additionally, officers were accused of frequently using less-than-lethal-force in an unconstitutional manner. Cited was the example of a Taser used on a man who had doused himself in gasoline. The discharged spark from the electronic weapon ignited the fuel, setting the man on fire. Other instances of police escalating situations in which force could have been avoided were charged.
Police departments are acquiring major battlefield equipment that emboldens officials to strong-arm those they should be protecting. “Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare is Becoming our Reality” (Autographed) chronicles how we got to this point.
Perhaps most notable was the shooting of Boyd in March.
Boyd, who was found illegally camping in the Sandia Mountains, was confronted by police. An argument followed in which Boyd was said to have acted erratically. Police shot and killed him as he appeared to be surrendering. The incident was captured on camera.
For Mayor Richard J. Berry, Boyd’s death was a “game changer,” reported Esquire, and he proposed “sweeping changes” to be implemented by the police chief. Among them was the requirement that officers wear and use lapel cameras during every interaction with the public.
But that didn’t help Mary Hawkes, 19, foster daughter of a retired judge. She was fatally shot last month after allegedly stealing a car and pointing a gun at an officer. The officer’s account cannot be confirmed because his lapel camera “wasn’t working.” It also proved defective in two previous incidents where possible excessive force was used.
Public anger spilled over in demonstrations following the Boyd shooting – protesters turned violent, blocking traffic, throwing rocks and bottles and damaging property. Last week, protesters took over the weekly city council meeting, shouting down council members and issuing a “people’s arrest warrant” for the chief of police, charging him with “harboring fugitives from justice at the Albuquerque Police Department” and for “crimes against humanity” in connection with recent police shootings. The police chief quickly left the city council meeting after the citizen’s arrest was announced, and no protesters tried to apprehend him.
Authorities said, had the protesters attempted to execute their “warrant,” they could have faced charges of battery on a police officer.
When several protesters conducted a silent protest last Thursday at the rescheduled meeting, they were removed, cited and banned from returning to council chambers for 90 days.
“Not only are we dealing with an unconstitutional police force, we are dealing with unconstitutional governance,” said protest organizer David Correia.
Correia said this week he and others are meeting with the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge the city council.
The ACLU has other major concerns about Albuquerque’s policing.
Since 2003, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has spent billions of tax dollars providing armored vehicles, powerful weaponry and other military-rated equipment to local law enforcement, and some of that is used in Albuquerque.
“There has been a trend of militarization of police agencies across the country, and it’s been stimulated by federal grants to purchase high-level technology and heavy armament that we have never seen before, except in military situations,” Peter Simonson, executive director of the New Mexico American Civil Liberties Union, told the Albuquerque Journal.
“Increasingly, you see APD using SWAT teams with riot gear and full body armor and helmets and assault rifles to perform operations that were traditionally carried out by uniformed policemen,” Simonson said. “The tactics have changed.”
Darren White, however, likes the change.
White, who has served as chief public safety officer for the city of Albuquerque, as well as New Mexico secretary of public safety and Bernalillo County sheriff, told the Journal he advised departments to use the heavy equipment with restraint, but it could make all the difference in an active-shooter situation.
Restraint is less an issue for Cliff Washburn, police commander for the city of Farmington, New Mexico. Referring to the city of 46,000’s mine-resistant vehicle, Washburn, who heads the city’s SWAT team, said, “It’s very intimidating. You roll up in front of somebody’s house with that, and it gets their attention. We’ll take it everywhere we go.”
The concern is compounded when a department that has a proven pattern of using excessive force and failure to de-escalate crises adds intimidating military gear to the equation.
WND has just released “Police State USA,” chronicling how America has arrived at the point of being a de facto police state, and explaining what led to an out-of-control government that increasingly ignores the Constitution and exploits 9/11 security fears to justify spying on its citizens.
“I’m trying to figure out why these local communities need Humvees,” Tom Ridge, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, told the Journal. “I think it’s ridiculous. The maintenance on a Humvee and some of this other equipment is daunting. They (police departments) could probably use a couple of more patrolmen rather than another military vehicle.
“I know these local jurisdictions mean well – but be smart about this,” Ridge added. “The last thing you want to create, even if you’re a local law-enforcement official, is an appearance that you’re quasi-military. That’s not who we are in this country.”
WND has reported other cases of abuse by New Mexico law enforcement involving forced cavity searches, enemas, colonoscopies, vaginal exams, cat scans and X-rays administered without warrants following minor traffic offenses.