By Jonathan Baca, Copy Editor | Photo by Moises Gonzales
On April 9, the Department of Justice released their report on the use of excessive force by officers of the Albuquerque Police Department from 2009 to 2013, finding that APD has shown a pattern of regularly violating citizen’s Constitutional rights due to “insufficient oversight, inadequate training, and ineffective policies.”
The report also found that officers used non-lethal force too frequently, that poor training and reckless actions by police actually created the need for force in many instances, and that a significant number of incidents involved people with mental illnesses.
Former student Rodrigo Rodriguez, who works as an organizer for the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), said that his and many other community groups have been working to support efforts to raise awareness of the realities of police violence, and to hold the APD and the city accountable.
“Community organizations like SWOP recognize the passion and the energy around this issue, and are more willing and able to make themselves available as resources through the community,” Rodriguez said.
SWOP is a grassroots organization working to fight social injustice through different campaigns, and they have been helping to organize protests, support the families of victims, and encouraging members of the community to get involved in the issue of police brutality, Rodriguez said.
The DOJ report contained a lengthy list of recommendations, including major changes to APD’s policies regarding the use of force, dealing with mentally ill people, de-escalation training, less emphasis on weapons and tactical training and more focus on community outreach and building partnerships with outside groups.
George Lujan, Communications Organizer for SWOP, said that while the report’s recommendations are a step in the right direction, the real solutions have to come from the citizens of Albuquerque.
“We don’t expect any federal entity or anyone else to show up in Albuquerque and clean up our mess. I think we all have to figure out what those solutions are, and it starts with the community,” Lujan said.
SWOP has been hosting an ongoing storyteller series about different issues like food justice and women’s issues, and their next event is scheduled for April 25 at the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice, where they will be discussing the city’s history of police violence, and the legacy of activism and resistance against it, Rodriguez said.
Lujan said that the issue is about a lot more than an out of control police force— the problems extend to every part of our community, and the solution will require that everyone looks at how the community treats some of its most vulnerable members.
“It’s about the entire community: eradicating poverty and giving people proper healthcare, making sure that we have mental and behavioral health services, making sure people know their rights, and getting away from the culture of militarization that our police is so wrapped up in. It’s not just the DOJ and APD, it’s much more complex,” Lujan said.
Mayor Richard Berry said in a press release that he acknowledges the problems in the APD, and that he is willing to continue working with the DOJ in implementing the changes that they suggested in their report.
“I’m of the opinion that when the city is banging at your doorstep and you’re the highest elected official, you need to show up, even if it’s just to save face. It was really disappointing to see that he didn’t show up to what was probably the most important council meeting of his tenure,” Rodriguez said.
Whatever happens, Lujan said that SWOP will keep working with community members and other groups to make sure that changes are made, and that Albuquerque residents stay engaged and active.
No one can truly fix these problems but the people, he said, and the solutions will involve much more than Federal oversight and police reforms.
“I do believe that it’s going to be New Mexicans that are going to create the change here, not any outside groups. We need to really figure out how we’re taking care of people and at—risk communities in our society, and I think that when we start answering those questions we’re going to see positive outcomes,” Lujan said.