National attention on police violence
With protesters taking over the streets in the past few weeks following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, demonstrators have broadened their demands for justice to defund and reform police departments all over the country.
With major cities like Minneapolis and Los Angeles seeking to defund their city’s police departments and allocate those funds towards departments like education and public health, the people marching the streets are pushing back on all systems of governments. Congress too, is feeling the heat— with a bill unveiled by the House and Senate Democrats. The bill, called the Justice in Policing Act, would limit legal protections for police and create a national database of excessive-force incidents as well as banning police choke holds.
Locally, New Mexico looks to answer the call
Here at home the pressure on lawmakers has also been called for to institute similar measures. While this isn’t the first time a bill aiming to implement policies to decrease institutional racism has been introduced, New Mexico Lawmakers passed an institutional racism bill during the special session last month. A bill was passed by the Legislature in the Special Session,SB8, requiring each police agency to come up with it’s own policies regarding mandates on certification being revoked upon the officer’s guilty, pleading guilty or no contest charges to an unlawful or threatened use of force in the line of duty. Certification can also be revoked if an officer fails to intervene in police action involving unlawful use of force. Another important detail in SB8 mandates that all police officers use body cameras in the state.
Obviously, there were those in the state who did NOT want to reign in police forces, and it’s shocking (JK) which side of the aisle they were on. House GOP Minority Leader, Jim Townsend, asserted during the session that progressives hijacked the Legislative session to bring issues of racial justice to light of which the poor Republicans—- *queue the smallest violins*—had to sit through.
In a letter to the Governor to request the bill be placed on the call for Special Session, State Sen. Linda Lopez (D-Albuquerque), Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero (D-Albuquerque) and Rep. Javier Martinez (D-Albuquerque) said, “The senseless murder of Mr. George Floyd has only exacerbated the intersection of COVID-19 and race, and while protesters across the country take their fight to the streets, it will be up to policymakers like us to begin to craft strategies to address institutional racism.” And while Special Session Came and went, with SB8 passing and making its way to the Governor’s desk to sign, we know there is still a long way to go when answering the call for true racial justice for New Mexicans and Americans alike.
Yes, police violence IS an issue in New Mexico
Just last year, New Mexico came in on top in fatal police shootings for the fourth year in a row. With deadly shootings by law enforcement officers, 19 lives were claimed around the state alone in 2019 according to a Fatal Force database created by The Washington Post. While this may come as no surprise as we’ve seen law enforcement all over the state use excessive force on an 11-year-old girl or most recently, a Las Cruces police officer placing Antonio Valenzuela in a fatal choke-hold.
Even with a police ‘surge’ throughout the state implemented last year raising questions and the root symptoms of current protests, there is a need for a closer look at how police departments around the state are funded. In March, Governor Lujan Grisham approved a $7.6 billion budget which included a hiring of 39 police officers and 7 new positions in the Department of Homeland Security. According to the New York Times’ piece on the growth of police budgets, their reports from 2017 show that major New Mexico city’s like Albuquerque and Las Cruces had 11 and 12 percent increases.
While ol’ Rep. Jim called the bill “too heavy a lift in a special session,” it was ultimately voted by the Senate body voted 30-12 with a mix of spending cuts, federal funding and reserves to deal with that budget hole and will be on its way to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk.
This is a big win for BIPOC New Mexicans. Not only is this bill mandating accountability on the officer’s behalf, it is a vote ensuring that Black and Brown bodies are closer to being safe from the hands of police departments across the state.
Since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, the Black community has experienced a multitude of new deaths. By hiring new officers, expanding their department funding, providing police immunity against being sued, is to acknowledge that we are continuing to feed into the system of police brutality, unaccountability and racism towards the Black communities and other communities of color.
Together, we can create the change we want to see. Last month, the mayor of Albuquerque announced the formation of a new public safety department designed to aid the police department. 911 calls relating to inebriation, homelessness, addiction and mental health will be directed to social workers, housing and homelessness specialists and violence prevention personnel.
This is the time to stand together behind BIPOC and uplift their voices. Support Black organizations that are organizing these rallies on the streets— organizations like Black Voices ABQ and the larger organizations like Movement for Black Lives. Rally behind them, create spaces and allow them to take up those spaces.
At a larger scale, support those pieces of legislation that our Senators and Representatives like are working for. State Senators like Linda Lopez, Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero and Rep. Javier Martinez present these bills year after year to make New Mexico a more accountable state. Call out racism in your communities and keep police and all law enforcement accountable. Lastly, keep an eye on those lawmakers and decision makers who do not represent them and vote them out when their time comes. Together, we can begin to reimagine what our current systems should be like.