by Jerilyn Bowen
We all watched in horror as the life went out of George Floyd under the impassive knee of the sadistic little man in blue on May 25th in Minneapolis. Since then, uprisings against police brutality and racial injustice have swept the country and the world. New Mexico is no exception. Nor should it be, given in particular the squalid record of killings and other rank abuses of power by a militarized police force in Albuquerque.
Under immense public pressure, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller has announced an intention to establish a new cabinet-level department of city government dedicated to dealing with many of the problems that police have up to now been handling–mental illness, homelessness, addiction, public drunkenness, abandoned cars and similar matters. The new Albuquerque Community Safety Department will dispatch unarmed, specially trained professionals to address such problems in a sensible nonviolent and caring way that recognizes the deep structural problems that produce so much of this misery–namely, poverty and social injustice. This groundbreaking measure could well serve as a model for other cities around the country.
Mayor Keller will look at “restructuring and reallocating resources” so as to build funding of the new department into the budget he’ll submit to the City Council in August, a budget to be discussed and likely made final by the end of October. Renewal of the APD contract with the city has meanwhile been postponed for review regarding stipulations designed to protect officers from being held accountable for abuse and misconduct.
It’s up to those of us who live in the Albuquerque metro area to let both the Mayor and our City Councilor know where we stand on the interrelated issues of police violence and community well being. Please tell them you want to see the police demilitarized and held to account for violations of their duty to protect and serve, and that you commend creation of the Albuquerque Community Safety Department and want to see it fully funded and operative as soon as possible:
Office of the Mayor, P.O. Box 1293, Albuquerque, NM 87103; 505/768-3000;
Find your City Councilor: www.cabq.gov/council/find-your-councilor.
Albuquerque City Council President Pat Davis has conducted a voter survey to guide the Council as it restructures the city budget in light of what the Police Department needs for law enforcement and what the community needs to improve the conditions that produce dysfunction and sometimes crime. His summary of the survey results can be found at: https://www.cabq.gov/council/find-your-councilor/district-6/news/9-500-residents-provide-input-on-police-reform-through-councilors-community-survey.
In the recently concluded special session of the NM state legislature, there were a number of relevant initiatives in the works. One that passed was SB 8, sponsored by Senator Joseph Cervantes. SB 8 requires law enforcement officers to wear body cameras and revokes police officer certification for any officer convicted of using unlawful force.
Other police reform and racial justice proposals did not fare as well.
In the regular legislative session earlier this year, as a much-needed step towards making law officers answerable to the community, State Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez introduced a police accountability bill on use of force, SB17. This bill would require an official reporting process when civilians are seriously harmed or killed by police, require independent investigation, and ensure prosecution where called for. For more on this and related topics, listen to the interview with Senator Lopez on the KANW radio show Report from Santa Fe that aired June 22nd: reportfromsantafe.com/episodes/archive/.
It’s important for us to let Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham know that we feel SB17 to be high priority for passage and implementation as soon as possible. Call her office at 505/476-2200 or email her at www.governor.state.nm.us/contact-the-governor/.
Along with that, please also tell your state legislators that you support the bill; you can find them at https://nmlegis.gov.
Other legislative measures to mention in your communications with the governor and with your state senator and representative: a ban on chokeholds, making police disciplinary records public, and outlawing racist hiring practices.
Finally and importantly, we need to support Senator Moe Maestes’s advocacy for elimination of the “qualified immunity” provision that allows police officers to escape lawsuits for crimes they’ve committed. His proposal would empower citizens to bring civil rights cases before state judges and make it possible for those subjected to police abuse to sue the perpetrator. The governor supported formation of a state commission to explore the qualified immunity issue; thank her for that and tell her you want to see this investigation put on a fast track.
For more information on what unfolded regarding these critical issues in the final days of the special legislative session, checkout this Retake Our Democracy report (scroll down to that section):
Retake Our Democracy offers services that may be of interest as we continue to work for a New Mexico that is a decent and safe place to live for all members of our diverse community. Among these is a Transformation Study Group that is researching the urgent issues we face during this time of multiple converging crises. This study group is
commissioned to develop background materials for progressive activists, legislators, and public officials to draw on in envisioning a more human future and in doing what it takes to get us there.
Now more than ever the world needs us to show up for justice. Keep on keeping on and be of good cheer.