Hundreds of New Mexico Protesters March Over Police Brutality
Activists in Albuquerque have held a march and a “people's trial” of the city's police chief, to protest dozens of fatal police shootings.
Hundreds rallied in the New Mexico city on Saturday, some carrying fake tombstones, to denounce what they called a culture of police brutality and official complicity.
It was the latest event in a vocal campaign demanding reform of a police department which has recorded 40 shootings, 26 of them fatal, since 2010.
Reforms are expected to be announced in coming weeks, following a Department of Justice report in April which detailed a pattern of excessive, unreasonable use of deadly force against residents.
Marchers said they needed to continue to pressure local authorities to prevent more officially justified shootings. “They say ‘justified’! We say ‘homicide’!” they chanted, as they gathered at Roosevelt Park.
The “people's trial” accused police chief Gorden Eden, who took over the department earlier this year, of failing to curb abuses.
One speaker, a retired police veteran named Samson Costales, said the department's trigger-happy culture led to the harassment of officers who did not shoot at citizens.
The marchers held a “die-in”, with participants holding fake tombstones for those shot dead.
Protest organisers liaised with police, who monitored the gathering. It passed off peacefully. "We acknowledge their first-amendment rights to voice their concerns," said Eden. A previous demonstration ended with riot police using tear gas.
Simmering anger towards the police erupted into coordinated protest after a video surfaced in March showing officers shooting James Boyd, a mentally ill homeless man.
In May, activists took over a council meeting and attempted a symbolic citizens' arrest of the police chief. They staged a silent protest at a subsequent council meeting, prompting guards to escort them out.
Earlier this month about two dozen activists occupied the office of mayor Richard Berry, prompting chaotic scenes and 13 arrests. June also saw the city of Albuquerque ordered to pay more than $6m in connection with the wrongful death of Christopher Torres, a man with schizophrenia who was killed by police in 2011.
The Department of Justice report highlighted troubling police practices such as shooting at moving vehicles to disable them, and letting officers use personal weapons instead of standard-issue firearms.
“Officers see the guns as status symbols,” the report said. “APD personnel we interviewed indicated that this fondness for powerful weapons illustrates the aggressive culture.”
The police force subsequently announced changes to training and ordered officers to stop shooting at moving vehicles. Federal authorities, currently in talks with the police department, are expected to mandate further changes.