Black Lives Matter movement unites Albuquerque and the world
Article by ABQ Live writers Nichole Harwood and Ludella Awad
The Black Lives Matter movement was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who fatally shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Seven years later, the movement has once again resurfaced throughout the United States in response to the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, who was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The first wave of peaceful protests swept the streets of Albuquerque beginning May 31 and continued on June 2, and June 7. With protesters marching together in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement, they encouraged their community to act on issues of racial disparity and police brutality. Throughout June, the movement has only continued to strengthen with organizers, businesses, and supporters of the movement giving their thoughts on Black Lives Matter and how it has shaped their city.
Local Business’s Speak Out
While organizers and protesters tried to share their message peacefully, riots erupted on June 1 after the first protest. According to KRQE, while it is unclear what individuals made up the riots, they were not believed to be made up of members of the protest from hours earlier.
According to the City of Albuquerque official press release, the Albuquerque Police Department deployed its Emergency Response Teams to a large portion of Downtown to keep people from vandalizing property and causing violence.
The press release states that some people threw bottles and other items at officers while others climbed on building rooftops and threw things down to the street. After a few hours, shots were fired at police on Central, in front of the KiMo Theater, with no injuries.
In the fall out of the riots, multiple businesses were vandalized, some sustaining large amounts of damage. Despite the damage, however, two local businesses have stood firm on their resolve, asking their patrons and fellow citizens of Albuquerque not to let the riots tarnish the message the peaceful protests were trying to spread.
Red Door Brewing Company posted immediately on their Facebook page after the riots letting their followers know that despite the damage to their business, they wanted their patrons to know it was not the work of the peaceful protests.
“We stand with those who are marching for justice. If you see boards on our windows today, don’t worry. We will be open again on Wednesday for takeout and hopefully soon for dine-in. We love you, Albuquerque! Everyone stay safe, stay healthy,” the posts continued. “Don’t let the actions of a few opportunists ruin the message of peace and justice, so many brave citizens are fighting for. Thank you to these kind men for helping us clean up the mess this morning and all those who reached out to offer help. YOU are the ABQ we know and love.”
Operations Manager for Red Door Brewing, Ali Cattin said that while her business received a couple of broken windows, that night’s employees and the security camera footage showed that the protest was long over before the riots began.
“What we saw after the protest was just a group of people that came through Central just to smash things up,” Cattin said. “It didn’t look like they had anything to do with the protest. We just wanted to encourage people to realize that violence that we saw that night wasn’t part of the protest.”
Cattin said the business wanted to clarify with their posts that they supported the protest and didn’t think that the violence done had anything to do with the protest.
“We support what Mayor Keller has been doing to try and integrate social work with the policing and having a visible presence particularly in the downtown community — we’ve had a great relationship with the police down there. They’ve always been very responsive, and they like to come and check on us. We would like to see that continue and go further and have the police be more involved in the community,” she said.
Red Door Brewing is supportive of future peaceful protests, Cattin said.
“Red Door Brewing is an inclusive place for people to come and gather together, and we would like it to be part of the downtown corridor where everyone can feel like they can come and be treated equally,” she said.
Owners of Effex Nightclub Carri Phillis and Bobby Ganster also received damage to their downtown venue and bar. The popular downtown hotspot had multiple doors broken. Despite the damage, Phillis echoed Cattin stating that individuals need to make a clear distinction between the protests and riots. In regards to the protests, Phillis said she was proud of New Mexico and that the protests were peaceful and very well done. The rioters she said were a completely separate group with a different agenda.
“I think the protests are needed,” she said. “There are issues that need to be addressed. Racism is a disgusting reality, so many people have to deal with it in our country. It’s shameful that in 2020 this is something that is still so prevalent in our society.”
Phillis said she was not one to protest, but that she prays that the protests taking place presently build a country that allows all parents to raise children with the privilege of not living in fear due to the color of their child’s skin.
“I think we need to stand together as a community,” Phillis said. “If you hear someone make racist statements, jokes, or show racism in their actions, we need to be the people to stop it. We can not sit silently in our bubbles anymore. No one is born a racist; it’s a taught behavior that is fostered by our silence. It’s time to be loud; we can make the difference.”
Party for Socialism and Liberation
While the protest on May 31 was followed by a riot on June 1 protestors once again took to the streets on June 2. With protests spreading across the country, Albuquerque’s chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation ( PSL) helped to organize the protest on the evening of Tuesday, June 2.
Organizer with the chapter, Satya Vatti said her party helped lead a march that demanded justice for George Floyd and all victims of police brutality, from the university area to downtown, where protestors made speeches on the steps of the APD station.
“We played a role in leading the march on Tuesday to show that the people of Albuquerque stand in absolute solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of protestors across the country and the world that are denouncing racism in the United States,” Vatti said.
During the march, Vatti said protestors chanted many chants, including “Charge all four cops,” and were clear in their resolve that there will be no peace in the streets if there is no peace.
While police brutality was a primary focus of the protest, Vatti emphasized that the protest encompassed many issues, including poverty, inequality, unemployment, centuries of neglect, and oppression under the capitalist economic and political system.
The message that PSL highlighted during the protest, which was supported by the people in attendance, Vatti said, was the need to build a militant mass movement of tens of thousands to millions of people. One that can not be bought and that will struggle against this inherently racist system, and fight for a new system.
“Our message was one of unity between those fighting for immigration rights, against police brutality, for Native liberation, against US wars, against poverty, and more,” Vatti said. “Most importantly, for the movement to grow and become stronger, working-class people need to be organized and join political organizations that will fight back and that represent their class interests.”
Response to Black Lives Matter June Protests in Albuquerque
New Mexico joined the rest of the United States to celebrate Juneteenth on June 19. The nationwide holiday celebrated the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham issued an executive order directing flags to fly at half-staff in observance of the holiday.
Organized by Charles Ashley III, Albuquerque locals joined together June 19 for a Public Art Protest where individuals using chalk created a Black Lives Matter mural at Civic Plaza in Albuquerque.
The next day June 20, another event Albuquerque Juneteenth 2020, which was held from 5pm to 10 p.m. at Roosevelt Park. The event was hosted by the All African People’s Revolutionary Party along with Welstand Foundation, Millions for Prisoners New Mexico, Southwest Save the Kids and Building Power for Black New Mexico.
This event preceded Mayor Keller’s news release in which he called on legislature to enact commonsense policies already in place in Albuquerque, such as body-worn cameras, banning chokeholds, and tracking the use of force incidents.
On June 15 Albuquerque became one of the first cities in the nation to create a third branch of first responders – alongside police and fire departments – to deliver a civilian public health approach to public safety.
According to the Albuquerque Journal the new department would connect people in need with services to help address any underlying issues.
According to Keller’s news release the creation of the department is only the newest addition to a two year old fight for police reform.
“More than two years ago, we decided to face these challenges head on in Albuquerque. While we still have a long road ahead of us, we have firsthand experience with the positive change that can come from commonsense police reform solutions like body-worn cameras—which have not been adopted by every law enforcement agency in the state—and the end of violent tactics like chokeholds that put too many lives at risk. I appreciate the Governor and the legislature for tackling these challenges, and adding to the momentum for change that is so needed in our communities as we confront these legacies of structural racism,” said Mayor Tim Keller.
Albuquerque Police Department Responds
Mayor Keller’s plans to implement a new Community Safety Department have slowly taken shape since the announcement in June. The new branch will serve as a third public safety branch to respond to people in need — rather than having armed police officers show up in situations involving individuals experiencing homelessness and or behavioral health issues.
“While many cities are only now waking up to these issues, Albuquerque is well into its police reform process and we decided to tackle these tough questions head on when we took office.” Keller said on a Facebook post addressing the plans for the new department. “For years, we’ve heard the public calling for a better solution for de-escalation and more officers for community policing, and we have been listening. It’s time we stop asking officers to do everything, and time we get people the help they need instead of sending armed officers to knock on their door.”
Albuquerque Police Department’s Director of Communications Gilbert Gallegos said the department took a different approach with how reform should look like working with the Department of Justice since APD Chief Mike Giere was appointed by Mayor Keller.
“We were able to reach an agreement. We have got a lot more of the reform process to work on. It’s not easy, it’s a very difficult process going forward.” Gallegos said. “We meet weekly with the monitors, over the phone and they come down to check out to see how the reform process is going.”
Keller acknowledged the challenges APD has experienced over the years trying to limit excessive use of force, particularly after The U.S. Department of Justice stepped in with a consent decree to ensure greater police accountability in 2014.
“While many cities are only now waking up to these issues, Albuquerque is well into its police reform process and we decided to tackle these tough questions head on when we took office. For years, we’ve heard the public calling for a better solution for de-escalation and more officers for community policing, and we have been listening. It’s time we stop asking officers to do everything, and time we get people the help they need instead of sending armed officers to knock on their door,” said Keller.
The APD is currently moving farther with the reform process and policies set. Currently APD has to review policies set in place every 6 months to a year before deciding on improvements that must be implemented.
The move is important to APD Gallegos said as it shows a response to the community.
“We think transparency is critically important to the public trust,” he said.
The Future of Black Lives Matter and Albuquerque
On July 3 the day before Independence Day protestors returned to the streets of Albuquerque calling for justice and police reform. According to KRQE the latest protest caused traffic to back up in the area of I-40 and Louisiana. Despite the blocking of traffic there were no confrontations with police and when the group dispersed at 4:30 p.m. there was no riot that took place later.
While there were no press releases from either the office of Mayor Keller or Governor Grisham in response to the protest planned future protests have been made by advocates for Black Lives Matter in Albuquerque.
One of the most recent planned protest was scheduled for July 18 titled “IT CAN’T WAIT MARCH!” organized by Community Organization Black Lives Matter ABQ New Mexico. Protestors from across New Mexico were asked to gather in Santa Fe by the local organization to ask for change from lawmakers in New Mexico’s capital.
“Black Lives Matter…Everyday,” Black Lives Matter ABQ’s Facebook event section states. “We can no longer wait for our elected officials and government to create and make the changes we so desperately need at their pace. We must demand that change be invoked and it be invoked now! This is just the beginning of the fight for Black liberation and we must demand to not only be seen and heard but that we are listened to. Black Lives Mattering is the bare minimum and we deserve so much more including but not limited to life.”
Protest photo gallery
Photos by ABQ Live photographer Diego Martinez