The Uncomfortable Space Between Enforcer and Public

With 8 times as many per capita murders by cops in Albuquerque compared to NYC, and with the DOJ who recently found that APD “Engaged in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force, in violation of the fourth amendment.” Albuquerque definitely has a problem with out of control cops. Take in to account that most of those killed by the cops are off color, in distress, and that most of the cops pulling the trigger are white – and we have an even bigger problem – one of continued racism or even genocide. As most of you know, I have recently become outspoken against police brutality, and in that process an former cop from N. California challenged me to do a police ride-along to see the local cops in action. While I couldn’t get in with APD, they have currently suspended ride-along’s, The Sheriff’s office welcomed me for an 8 hour shift on a Friday evening.

First of all, I would love to give a shout out to officers: Portell, Schwartz and Coggins – you gentlemen made me very comfortable, were professional, courteous, occasionally fun, I learned a lot and had a good time. (and before my anarchist friends accuse me of becoming turn coat – it is not all peaches and cream from here!) I  believe in giving credit where credit is due, and these cops behaved with the utmost respect to me and others during my entire shift with them. Hands down, I cannot criticize any actions or words by any cops I made during my 8 hours with Albuquerque Sheriff’s department. There will be critique though, but it will be against the system.

I did my ride along in the south valley of Albuquerque in an area where we have predominantly Latino / Chicano and Indigenous populations. It is also a very poor area of town, and I deliberately chose this area to do my ride along in.

A couple of experiences stand out from the evening. The first call was very dramatic – an young man had hit an empty building and then took of driving 70+ mph down the small side street with a trashed car (I was rather surprised the car drove after seeing the damage). He had an 2 year old baby in the back who was not adequately strapped in. When my officer and I arrived at the scene the young man was in custody, and he was belligerent; to my unprofessional eyes he appeared strung out. I noticed the man in custody yelling, screaming, kicking the doors and generally carrying on. For a while the officers ignored the behavior – but while I was with my officer taking pictures of the damaged car – at one point 4 officers hauled the young man out of the car and got him to the ground to restrain him. I do not know if the young man was an danger to himself, thrashing around the car; the young man had one tiny abrasion on his shoulder afterwards and did not otherwise seem to be injured. The officers remained professional with the prisoner.

There were many interactions between officers and prisoner over an one hour period. For instance, the prisoner decided to actively challenge certain cops that he felt had mistreated him. The Sergeant made a smart choice to remove those officers from the prisoners immediate vicinity as potential violence escalated between those interactions. The Sergeant also allowed the prisoner to kiss his daughter good bye before hauling him off, something I thought was incredibly kind and human, both to the young man and especially to the baby – I hope it is standard practice, but I wonder how much my viewing presence changed decisions in dealing with this prisoner.

Another call stuck with me – the officers were called out to a family of three. They were mother, older brother and younger brother. The younger brother had a serious substance abuse problem, he felt that his older brother had taped porno’s with his wife behind his back. The younger brother also felt that his older brother and wife had secretly taped porno’s of himself with his wife and posted them on the Internet. My two officers very clearly decided almost instantly that this probably wasn’t true, and even if it was true, no crime had been committed. They decided to look at the pictures of the older brother and the wife to be able to tell the younger brother so. At this point I was able to ask my officer about the potential that there were pictures of the younger brother that he had not consented to, and after I had asked that my officer decided to have the younger brother show those to us as well. I didn’t see any of the pictures, but 4 people all said that those pictures were not of the people the younger brother claimed they were, so I am sure that is true.

The last call that really stuck with me were several calls to the station of a “suspicious person”. There were multiple calls about this person, so understandably the officers had to check it out. They stopped this person who happened to be Native. The person they stopped agreed to show his ID, be quickly patted down, and have his back pack searched – these acts were done with permission from the person. That said, I did not see an suspicious person – I simply saw a person on a bike. The officers didn’t agree with me on that – and I couldn’t quite piece together why. The person they stopped did get upset about the stop and chewed out the officers some. I believe the words “at least you are not shooting” came out this person’s mouth, and this made the officers admonish him to be respectful.

Several threads weaves themselves in to these stories – the officers spoke several times about an “pattern of deception”, and they are clearly trained to look for this. For instance – no matter whom those pictures were off, clearly the younger brother described above felt violated, and had there been pictures of the younger brother which he did not consent to – there would have been a crime to report and investigate. Back in California, had there been pictures of the young man that he claimed he did not consent to then the unit for sexual violence would automatically be dispatched, those pictures wasn’t there, the officers were right about that, but it was something to take seriously. I saw an young, distressed and addicted man who needed to be heard and respected – the officers didn’t seem to see an suffering human being – just a strong out annoyance who was taking their time.

The stop of the Indigenous man had some of the same dehumanization – I understood that the officers had to follow up on the calls, the reason for them to even request to do a search on him, and my officer’s emphatic reaction when he saw the man on the bike “Yes, we definitely have to stop him”, both those responses eluded me. Was he a suspicious person or was he a suspicious Indigenous person? And Yes, the distinction is important.

It is the same thread weaving through the very dramatic first call. I saw a young man, most likely strung out, certainly lost and broken, making horrible decisions. I saw distress, fear and hurt – my officers seemed to see just a bad person who had put his daughter in danger. When the young man started to verbally accost the officers it was almost impossible not to notice the defensiveness in the officers – an defensiveness that seemed close to anger. And I do not excuse the choices of this young man – especially the choices that so clearly endangered his young 2 year old daughter – it is simply tragic.

In an area where racial tensions are very strong it was also impossible not to notice the racial disparities between officers and public. The south valley is predominantly Latino / Chicano and Indigenous – by far most of the officers were white. This reminds me of the two ER’s that I had the unfortunate luck to visit walking in to Albuquerque – they were Gallup and Grants – and they were in an area with an extremely strong Indigenous population – yet, most of the workers in those ER’s where white. Out of 12 officers on shift in South Valley only 2 spoke Spanish – can’t the substation invest in Rosetta Stone and make it mandatory to study? Or, of course, even better, actively recruit and train people from the community!

As I came away from the shift it was with an uncomfortable taste in my mouth that the solution to police brutality is not a simple one, it seems to be an system that is simply broken on all levels. The people the police interacted with, arrested or fined through the evening were every single one broken in some way, struggling to survive.  Opting for force, violence and prison with people like that – what good does it do? And the police are without a doubt professionally trained to distance themselves – in fact one of my officers explained the necessity to me very clearly, because otherwise he would not be able to spot the “pattern of deception”; but it becomes dehumanizing and diminishing by definition. The people the police deals with needs a social worker – not force – but even if those social workers were available the social system, skills and knowledge is also broken to the core and often as dehumanizing in its attitudes and set up as the legal system. (a very different article of course).

The problem is systemic, not personal, and the system is broken top to bottom. While the problem is clearly systemic the solution must be personal. Only when and if the cops genuinely get involved in resolving the problem will there be resolution. A resolution will not come from pretty words, silly meetings and marketing professionals trying to control the population. And the cops will not get involved in the solution until or unless they admit that the violence is too much, the shootings are too many and the damage to lives too expensive. I heard the officers ask for responsibility from those they interacted with several times during the shift – in that same vein, I think it is time the police, top to bottom, honestly look at brutality and deadly force. So, I would love to ask all genuine officers out there to possibly stop wanting to defend when we talk about police who shoots and sometimes kills; it is a fact, it happens, and it is tragic.  When the Native man described above said: “at least you didn’t come out shooting”, he honestly expressed what the majority of the population in Albuquerque fears – especially the poverty stricken people. The police can see “disrespect”, I see simply reality; there have been too many killings. And while we – the rebels – the people who points out what is wrong with the system could also do well to find ways to listen to you and the endless litany of anger and difficult conditions you meet every single day. As I was told several times during the shift – it is not that you want to harass or bother anyone – you just have to double check a report of suspicious activity. I heard the officers loud and clear when the frustration of dealing with an angry or suspicious public made life harder for the officers. It is still the police that holds the guns, and much gun violence comes from the police.

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2 thoughts on “The Uncomfortable Space Between Enforcer and Public

  1. You ask why they do not purchase Rosetta stone so people can learn to speak Spanish, I love the Spanish people but please do not forget what country you are in and the language we speak. As for the cops, I know how many stare down the barrel of a gun and know that it is better it is them than you. They may look at people and see bad because that is what people show them more often than not. They are cautious when dealing with anyone no matter the color of the skin. It seems to me that the skin color matters to you more then most. I do not care if it is black, white, brown, or blue as long as the person is doing the job right and by the way we are all one race it is called human. I love them all and so does God. Try and look at people and not the skin, the heart of each person can touch you if you let it but if you walk in looking for prejudice you will find it. If you go and look for love a respect you will find it. If you want to stop racism then start by look in the mirror. God bless and I hope your read this and did not get mad, but that it helps you to see things differently.

    • Duke, you know, without knowing anything about you – I know one thing for sure, you are caucasian. You are most likely also male. How do I know this? Only white people can afford to not be conscious of the privilege their race automatically give them. People of color always have to be aware of the risk they run, simply by virtue of their color. An disproportionate percentage of people of color are killed by the police and in jail. It is all part of a system that favors caucasians, and only white people will say it doesn’t matter.

      As far as what we language we speak – who decides our language? There is no official language of the United States. English speakers somehow imagine that they have an bigger right to enforce their language on others but that too is just privilege in action. In several areas of the US Spanish is actually the demographically dominant language – yet the white people still thinks the majority should just freaking well change for them.

      So, you sit in comfort and extoll about how race doesnt matter to you – as long as those damn people learn your language and “do their job”. This, Duke, is the new face of racism and it is as extreme and disgusting as your KKK ancestors!

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