On January 10, the online news outlet New Mexico Sun published a 750 word Pete Dinelli guest opinion column entitled “ACLU lawsuit vs ABQ: false and inflammatory”. It is a highly condensed and edited version of a previously published Dinelli blog article. Below is the guest column followed by the link:
HEADLINE: “ACLU lawsuit vs ABQ: false and inflammatory”
By Pete Dinelli
“On Monday, December 19, the ACLU and the NM Center on Law & Poverty filed a “Class Action Complaint For Violations of Civil Rights and for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief” against the City of Albuquerque on behalf 8 Plaintiffs alleging they are homeless. They claim they were displaced from Coronado Park when the city closed it and that the city did not provide satisfactory shelter. According to the ACLU, the lawsuit was filed to stop the City from destroying encampments of the unhoused, seizing and destroying personal property and jailing and fining people.
The closure of Coronado Park was absolutely necessary because of what it had become which was a violent, crime invested, ground contaminated park that posed an immediate threat to the unhoused, the surrounding neighborhood and to the general public. The unhoused have reached crisis proportions, not because their numbers have increased, but because they have become far more visible and aggressive by illegally camping in parks, on streets, in alleyways and in city open space, whenever they want and refusing city services, medical attention and city shelter. The overwhelming majority of the Coronado Park unhoused declined the services and shelter offered. Many told the city they planned to move to another park or street location.
The lawsuit makes sweeping allegations of civil rights violations that are highly inflammatory that should be challenged by the city in no uncertain terms as being false.
The suit alleges that “the City regularly enforces City ordinances and state laws against unhoused people in a manner that criminalizes their status as homeless, the City deprives them of the means to survive. The destruction of people’s tents, tarps, blankets, and sleeping bags leaves them completely exposed to the elements. The destruction of people’s medicine, food, and water deprives them of some of the most essential conditions for life.”
Stolen grocery store baskets brimming with abandoned items found in business dumpsters or residential garbage bins are not “meager, essential necessities for life.”
The ACLU complaint asserts the unhoused, because of their status and because there is no city housing available, they have the right to violate the law and illegally camp wherever they want for how long as they want without government interference. The unhoused are not above the law and do not have the right to violate the law because they are homeless
The complaint alleges that the city is “jailing and fining” the unhouse because of their status of being homeless. This allegation is FALSE. APD has a “no arrest” policy for nonviolent homeless crimes such as trespass on public and private property, illegal camping in city parks and streets, rights of way, alleyways and open space. When the unhoused are cited for such crimes, they are given a 3-day notice to vacate their encampment along with their belongings. When APD arrests or detains the unhoused it’s for felonies such as illicit drugs, stolen property, stolen or unlicensed guns or weaponry, individuals with outstanding arrest warrants or unhoused who pose an immediate threat to the public or themselves.
Being unhoused is not a crime. Government, be it federal or local, have a moral obligation to help and assist the unhoused, especially those that are mentally ill or who are drug addicted. Over two years, the city has spent or is spending upwards of $100 million on homeless services including for emergency shelter, subsidized housing, food and medical care and drug counseling. The vast majority of the chronically unhoused refuse or decline city shelter, housing, services and financial help offered or simply say they are not satisfied with what is being offered by the city.
The unhoused are not above the law. They cannot be allowed to ignore the law, illegally camp wherever they want for as long as they want and as they choose, when they totally reject any and all government housing or shelter assistance. The City has every right to enforce its laws on behalf of its citizens to preserve and protect the public health, safety and welfare of all its citizens.
Unlawful encampment squatters who refuse city services and all alternatives to living on the street, who want to camp at city parks, on city streets in alleys and trespass in open space give the city no choice but to take action and force them to move on. The city needs to seek the immediate dismissal of the case and the 8 plaintiffs unsubstantiated or questionable claims for a failure to state claims upon which relief can be granted.”
Pete Dinelli is a native of Albuquerque. He is a licensed New Mexico attorney with 27 years of municipal and state government service including as an assistant attorney general, assistant district attorney prosecuting violent crimes, city of Albuquerque deputy city attorney and chief public safety officer, Albuquerque city councilor, and several years in private practice. Dinelli publishes a blog covering politics in New Mexico: www.PeteDinelli.com.
ABOUT THE NEW MEXICO SUN
The New Mexico Sun is part of the Sun Publishing group which is a nonprofit. The New Mexico Sun “mission statement” states in part:
“The New Mexico Sun was established to bring fresh light to issues that matter most to New Mexicans. It will cover the people, events, and wonders of our state. … The New Mexico Sun is non-partisan and fact-based, and we don’t maintain paywalls that lead to uneven information sharing. We don’t publish quotes from anonymous sources that lead to skepticism about our intentions, and we don’t bother our readers with annoying ads about products and services from non-locals that they will never buy. … Many New Mexico media outlets minimize or justify problematic issues based on the individuals involved or the power of their positions. Often reporters fail to ask hard questions, avoid making public officials uncomfortable, and then include only one side of a story. This approach doesn’t provide everything readers need to fully understand what is happening, why it matters, and how it will impact them or their families.”
The home page link to the New Mexico Sun is here:
The link to a related Dinelli blog article is here:
Unhoused Sue City Over Coronado Park Closure; City Should Seek Immediate Dismissal; Unhoused Cannot Be Allowed To Violate The Law As They Refuse City Shelter And Services