Created on Friday, 09 May 2014 Written by RUSSELL CONTRERAS, Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The Albuquerque City Council gathered Thursday under new rules and heightened security designed to avoid an angry confrontation like the one that broke out earlier in the week amid community outrage over a spate of deadly police shootings.
The special meeting started quietly with the council president spelling out the rules for the night. Those included no signs, props or any other campaign material.
Public comment was also limited to the legislation the council was prepared to consider, including measures near the bottom of the agenda that would affect the hiring of the police chief.
"If we don't have order tonight, I will clear the room. Please be respectful," Council President Ken Sanchez said.
Several people decided to take a stand by turning their backs to the council members and refusing to speak during their turns at the podium. Before being escorted out of the chambers by security, they raised their fists, prompting supporters in the crowd to do the same.
Some citations were issued for criminal trespassing but it was immediately clear how many. Those who received the citations will not be allowed to return to City Council for 90 days.
Sanchez and Councilor Rey Garduno said that was not an intention of the rules and they would look into the matter.
On Monday, demonstrators took over the regularly scheduled council meeting, chanting for the ouster of the police chief, shouting at council members and causing so much disruption that the panel's president adjourned the meeting.
Protesters also tried to serve a "people's arrest warrant" on Police Chief Gorden Eden.
Activist Andres Valdez called Monday's protest a "coup d'etat" that was needed because councilors had refused to listen to citizen complaints about the police.
The Albuquerque Police Department has been under scrutiny over 39 police shootings in the city since 2010, prompting a harsh report earlier this year from the U.S. Justice Department that highlighted excessive use of force.
The protests this week followed a weekend shooting that killed an armed man after a SWAT standoff.
The protests have brought attention to New Mexico's unique history of civil disturbance, and a leader of this week's demonstrations cited as inspiration a notorious 1960s citizen raid of a courthouse in the state.
In 1967, protesters contending the U.S. government stole millions of acres of land from Mexican-American residents stormed a courthouse to attempt a citizen's arrest of the district attorney. During the raid, the group shot and wounded a state police officer and jailer, beat a deputy and took the sheriff and a reporter hostage.
"That's where we got the idea for the citizen's arrest," said David Correia, a protest organizer and University of New Mexico American studies professor. He wasn't advocating violence, but a focus on civil disobedience, saying participants were willing to be arrested.
Correia was among those who were escorted out of the council chambers Thursday night.
Protesters say the rowdy disruption of Monday's meeting also follows the tactics of another 1960s Mexican-American group: the Black Berets. Similar to the Black Panther Party, the Berets mounted community patrols, opened free clinics and protested police brutality in Albuquerque. To draw attention to their causes, they often attended meetings and events unannounced to force authorities to hear them out.
The latest protest also highlighted the dilemma facing Albuquerque police. Eden was hired just three months ago to bring reform to the troubled department, which recently implemented changes such as lapel-mounted cameras on officers to lead to more transparency about police actions.
But video of recent shootings, especially one in March involving a knife-wielding homeless camper, only inflamed tensions once the footage went viral. And police insist that the suspect in the weekend shooting was a threat because he was armed and putting his family and others in danger.
Deputy Chief Eric Garcia stressed that officers patiently negotiated with suspect Armand Martin and attempted to de-escalate the situation but had no other choice when he exited his home with handguns.
On Monday, protesters called for a citizen's arrest of Eden, charging him with "harboring fugitives from justice at the Albuquerque Police Department" and for "crimes against humanity" in connection with recent police shootings. The police chief quickly left the meeting after the citizens' arrest was announced, and no protesters tried to apprehend him. Had anyone touched him, authorities said they could have faced charges of battery on a police officer.
A state attorney general's office spokesman said it was likely illegal for citizens to arrest a police chief.
The debate over whether the police chief should be elected or approved by the council is expected to stretch over the coming months. The council did not take any final action Thursday, but Sanchez said some version of the proposal will likely come before voters this fall.