On June 4, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, with protests over race-related issues intensifying around New Mexico and the nation, said it’s time to address the “ugly truth” of racism embedded in core institutions. During a press conference announcing a Council for Racial Justice Lujan Grisham said:
“We have a tendency to wrap ourselves in that particular cloak and pretend sometimes that we don’t have the kind of inequalities, institutional racism and hatred that exists. We have institutional racism embedded in every construct in American society. The fact you might not see it every day means you’re not looking for it every day. It exists.”
The Governor announced at a news conference with African American community leaders that she wants to identify policy changes to deal with racism and will create a Council for Racial Justice and appoint a racial justice czar within the Governor’s office. The council has yet to be appointed, but it will include former state Treasurer James Lewis and House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque. Other members will include state Cabinet secretaries, law enforcement officials and leaders from the state’s African American, Native American, Hispanic and Asian American communities.
Lujan Grisham said all New Mexico leaders, including herself, must start by listening more and talking less. During the press conference, Alexandria Taylor of the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs said black New Mexicans were hurting after the high-profile deaths of several African Americans in recent months and said:
“It is time for us to come together, not be further divided.”
Donna Maria Davis, the pastor of the Grant Chapel A.M.E. Church in Albuquerque, said the commitment to addressing structural inequalities has to be sustained in order for it to make a difference and said:
“We can’t afford to be not racist. … We have to be anti-racist. [younger New Mexicans should be included on the council]. They deserve a life that’s worth living and not a life that’s full of fear.”
Below are links to related news coverage on the Council for Racial Justice:
ROLE OF LAW ENFORCEMENT
The Governor’s reaction and creation of the Council for Racial Justice is no doubt in reaction in part to the protests and demonstrations around the United States and in New Mexico that have been ignited with the killing of 46-year-old George Floyd. The governor suggested expanded conflict de-escalation training for New Mexico law enforcement recruits and an overhaul of probation and parole rules could be among the changes pursued in the coming months.
The Governor acknowledged that expanded conflict de-escalation training for law enforcement is not the only thing that must be addressed. Racial profiling is also problematic. New Mexico has a 2009 bias-based profiling law that bans law enforcement from investigating someone based on their race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. The state law requires that law enforcement agencies develop policies and training protocols dealing with racial profiling.
Notwithstanding the state law a few New Mexico cities have faced allegations of racial police practices. The Hobbs Police Department has faced claims from several former officers alleging police officials targeted enforcement efforts at black and Hispanic communities in the city. In addition, New Mexico has placed either first or second in the nation for its rate of deadly shootings by law enforcement officers in recent years.
The governor also alluded to Albuquerque’s history with police use-of-force issues that led to a 2014 settlement agreement after the U.S. Department of Justice found the Albuquerque Police Department had a pattern of violating people’s rights through the use of excessive force.
APD AND THE DOJ
The Albuquerque Police Department is one of the 18 municipalities in the United States under a Federal Court consent decree for excessive use of force and deadly force. On April 10, 2014, the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), issued its report of the 18-month civil rights investigation of the Albuquerque Police Department (APD). The DOJ reviewed excessive use of force and deadly force cases and found that APD engaged in a “pattern and practice” of unconstitutional “use of force” and “deadly force” and found a “culture of aggression” within APD.
What differentiates the DOJ’s investigation of APD from all the other federal investigations of police departments and consent decrees is that the other consent decrees involve in one form or another the finding of “racial profiling” and use of excessive force or deadly force against minorities. The DOJ’s finding of a “culture of aggression” within APD dealt with APD’s interactions and responses to suspects that were mentally ill and that were having psychotic episodes. The investigation found APD’s policies, training, and supervision were insufficient to ensure that officers encountering people with mental illness or in distress do so in a manner that respected their rights and in a manner that was safe for all involved.
In November, 2014, the City of Albuquerque entered into its Federal Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) mandating sweeping changes and reforms to APD. Over the last 5 years of implementing the mandating DOJ reforms, APD has made progress in implementing the reforms under the watchful eye of a Federal Court approved monitor. The reforms apply as much to the treatment of minorities as to the treatment of the mentally ill.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
In his speech, “The Other America,” from 1953, the Reverend Martin Luther King said the following:
“I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. In the final analysis, the riot is the language of the unheard. What is it that America has failed to hear? … In a sense, our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our winter’s delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these occurrences of riots and violence over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”
Sixty-seven years later, we are still asking “What is it that America has failed to hear?” The words of Dr. King have been proven true once again with the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis Police Officer and the protests that have ensued across the country.
We must finally do something about ending racism once and for all for ourselves and for the sake of our future generations. As individuals, we must, in some manner, make it very clear to all who we interact with, our families and friends alike, and people we work with that racism is not tolerated on any level and it must be condemned in no uncertain terms.
Our law enforcement community must understand with complete clarity that police brutality, excessive use of force and deadly force based on racial profiling and the presumption of guilt because of a person’s color and not evidence will not be tolerated. No Hispanic, no African American and no person of color should ever feel uncomfortable talking to any police officer or feel they cannot call the police to ask for help or to report a crime. Police must recognize that performing their motto to “serve and protect” is not determined by skin color.
Out of crisis and chaos can come opportunity. Once again, we have an opportunity to look within ourselves and acknowledge the racism in this country is very real, very pervasive and tearing our communities and our country apart. We must look within ourselves and our communities and finally do something about it to end racism once and for all.
As citizens of a free country, we must seize this opportunity and reach out to virtually all communities of color more than ever before and work together to end racism in this country and for our future generations. As individuals, we must, in some manner, make it very clear to all who we interact with at work and in our daily lives, our families and friends alike, that racism is not and will not be tolerated on any level and it must be condemned in no uncertain terms.