The Albuquerque Police Department are being investigated by the FBI after a YouTube video went up last week, showing APD shooting a homeless man who was camping, after what was reported as a standoff that lasted for hours.
This is the 22nd police shooting since 2010, and outrage has poured out over the incident, sparking the interest of the national media and even Anonymous, which led to protests against police violence all over the city Sunday night.
APD has said that the deadly use of force was warranted in this instance, because the suspect, James Boyd, had a history of mental illness and was armed with multiple knives.
I’d barely noticed the story until the protests started, and didn’t really know what to make of it. Maybe APD did have good reason to shoot Boyd. I don’t know.
But after witnessing cops in bullet-proof vests and gas masks shooting tear gas into a street filled with peaceful protesters, innocent by-standers, and even children, I’ve decided to err on the side of the people who weren’t being assholes.
My introduction to the protests was through Thomas Dixon’s live video stream as he followed protesters along Central Avenue in downtown Albuquerque.
Hundreds were marching to the police station, but the only live footage was coming from Dixon’s phone and two other feeds.
I watched as protesters began performing a few idiotic stunts that received more than their share of eye-rolling on Twitter. At 7 PM, a large crowd gathered on Interstate 25, blocking traffic for a few minutes with no apparent reason in mind. At 7:30, some dummy had the bright idea to shimmy up a traffic light pole at Central and Yale. They were trying to remove the street sign.
The march stopped on Central and University, where a crowd began to gather. A few minutes later, Dixon said his battery was dying and signed off.
After that, all I had left was the handful of tweets coming in and the APD police band, where the calm voice of an officer informed dispatch that all incoming patrol cars should park a block north of Central and Girard.
Caleb James, of KOB4, began tweeting pictures of protesters climbing on an APD Police Substation. The last picture I saw before jumping in the car was a blurry shot of a State Police Tactical Team wearing olive green, riding on the back of what looked like a goddamn tank.
I parked a couple of blocks from the intersection and started toward what appeared to be an army of police cruisers, lined up two deep along the side streets.
As I approached Central, a kid wearing a bandana over his mouth bummed a cigarette from me, saying “You’re late, man. It’s already over. Everybody’s just hanging out on the sidewalk, now.”
I still wanted pictures, though, so I walked the rest of the way to the street, where I noticed a large crowd further west.
Cops in full riot gear were everywhere. They had lined up along the middle stripe of Central, facing outward. Up until then, I had been thinking of myself as a gawker, but I suddenly realized that these spooky storm troopers were staring at me with their batons ready. I shivered.
Even weirder were the arriving State Police tanks. Now I could see that they were some kind of armored transport. They were letting off groups of olive vested and helmeted troops, holding what appeared to my highly untrained eye as rifles or some other nasty things.
Further west, there were a few officers on horseback. A voice was crackling over a loudspeaker, sounding just like Kermit the Frog with a cold. I could only make out some of what was being said. “Unlawful assembly,” was one thing. “Refusal to disperse will escalate the situation,” was another. I also heard “Final warning” at least a dozen times.
I was surprised at the “Unlawful assembly” bit. No one seemed violent. There was definitely some, “Fuck APD!” being shouted at regular intervals, but at least the bad habit of walking in the roadway seemed to have stopped before my arrival. Almost everyone was on the sidewalk, quietly filming the cops.
I looked around at the crowd. It wasn’t huge. Maybe a hundred or so. Amongst them were a few families. I counted at least two toddlers and one infant. Fifty feet from the SWAT creeps was a laundromat, where a woman was folding towels and watching the craziness on the other side of the window pane.
A block west, in front of a Denny’s at Central and Columbia Dr, the tone turned from menacing to sinister as more state police arrived. They hopped into formation, a single line of troops facing a mostly empty street, and put on their gas masks. They began marching east, the armored transports rolling in behind them.
If the protesters had still been in the street, they would have been boxed in by the marching state police from the west, and the riot police from the east. The only thing was that there were only a few people there, and most of them seemed to just be crossing the street.
I looked back the way I had come, and was nervous to find a police van blocking my escape. Behind me was an alley that led back into the side streets, and I started to edge toward it.
Meanwhile, the state police continued their march toward the riot cops. We were all watching this strange display of authority, when suddenly a sound like firecrackers went off, and tear gas swamped the street.
Luckily, it was windy, and most of it blew away.
I began to make a heroic retreat, and took one last look over my shoulderin time to see the cops bursting off of the street and onto the sidewalks and parking lots, chasing protesters and rubberneckers, alike.
I took up a brisk pace down the alley and made my way back to the car.
I unlocked the door, and noticed my throat starting to get scratchy. Above my head, a bat flapped around a light pole.
The voice came from the screened-in porch behind me. An elderly woman.
“Look at me. All this stuff going on, and I’m looking at bats.” She laughed. “Well, you can’t spend all your time thinking about the bad things.”
The Albuquerque Police Department is currently being investigated by five different agencies.
All original photos by J. Rodriguez Grisham