Protests against the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) turned violent today as tear gas was deployed and protesters were arrested. The protests were triggered by an Internet video that went viral recently that depicts the APD fatally shooting a homeless man in the Sandia foothills near the city of Albuquerque. It is important to note that it was the APD itself that released the video to the public. It was not some cell phone camera footage taken by a private citizen. The video does not make clear whether the man was a threat to officers, but it is the latest in a long string of incidents that have plagued the APD in recent years. It marked the 37th shooting incident that the APD has been involved in since 2010. 23 of those shootings were fatal.
It is this pattern of behavior that protestors object to and want to draw attention to. One protestor commented to reporters that the situation in Albuquerque has “reached a boiling point,” and that citizens in the city were becoming more and more distrustful of the APD. Another protestor carried a sign saying “APD- Dressed to kill,” and implied that citizens almost expect a violent response whenever they deal with the APD. They accuse the department of developing a “shoot first, ask questions later” culture that does not place any emphasis on protecting the citizens of Albuquerque.
The large number of shootings in Albuquerque has attracted the attention of federal investigators. The United States Justice Department has been looking at the APD for over a year now. Aside from the large number of shootings and excessive use of force, the APD is also being investigated for potential civil rights violations. Albuquerque is home to a significant Hispanic population and some citizens feel that this group is unfairly targeted by the APD in terms of enforcement activities. All of these activities led to the protests in Albuquerque this weekend that have turned violent.
Initially the protests involved citizens gathering outside the APD headquarters and marching around the downtown area. But protest organizers said that things grew beyond their control and citizens began intentionally blocking traffic and vandalizing property. When the main group of protestors returned to the APD headquarters, they found armed officers in riot gear waiting for them and the situation began to escalate. Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry released a statement affirming the citizen’s right to protest, but noted that they did not have the right to destroy property or place other citizens in danger by obstructing roads. He acknowledged that the original protest was likely taken over by people not connected to the event and took it “far beyond a normal protest.”
The protest also took an interesting turn on the Internet as the APD website was attacked by the hacker group Anonymous. The group claimed to be acting in response to the shooting of the homeless man in Sandia and called on further action by protestors in the city of Albuquerque itself. The main APD website had been restored at the time of this article’s publication.
The situation remains unresolved at this time. Protestors are calling for the resignation of some Albuquerque city officials, including the police chief. The FBI has opened an investigation into the shooting of the homeless man, in addition to the ongoing Justice Department investigation. Regardless of the final resolution, protests against the Albuquerque police turned violent this weekend.
By Christopher V. Spencer