Sunday, April 27, 2014

Albuquerque 2014: Living in the "Kill Zone"

 Bloody Pictures - "The Quick and the Dead"
A "high desert killing field"

With A Tale of Two Cities Dickens captivated his world as he portrayed the almost paralyzing fracture of common thought -- the deep alienation -- separating London and Paris in the days before the French Revolution. It was almost as if different creatures inhabited different realities on different planets. Even the same observations yielded wildly disparate conclusions.

If he were to author a new novel, Dickens' literary cunning could play well in Albuquerque. Although sadly, not many in Albuquerque are inclined -- or even able -- to read such a book.  But so far as the alienation is concerned, all the other essential components are present.

MeanMesa has watched, fascinated, as the brutalizing scandal has unfolded, and public awareness -- again, only to the extent such a commodity can reasonably be expected from the citizens of Albuquerque -- has exploded at a quite uncomfortable, correspondingly explosive rate. Around here, it is a story with tentacles so invasive that no one has been able to simply "set it aside" in preparation for a spring afternoon's siesta.

A "justified incident" in the East Mountains [image source]

Further, when MeanMesa refers to "a tale of two cities," there is no suggestion that the city is torn between citizens who think the killing is "just fine" and those who consider it horrible.  There may be a few, barely detectable, "high desert" nuances at play out there somewhere, but not nearly enough to satisfactorily "buffer" the tale's unpleasant starkness.

The distinguishing feature between the "two bloody pictures" is, instead, one based on the depth and scope.  To pursue this distinction, MeanMesa will section this post into two discussions:  "The Small Picture" and "The Big Picture."

The US Department of Justice Visits Albuquerque

For the benefit of MeanMesa's international visitors, a collection of short, hopefully objective historical account of the events prompting all of this will be provided first.  A link is provided in each case for further reading and quotation attribution.  Additional links are provided to various articles of news coverage concerning different aspects of the story.

It is not the intention of MeanMesa to recount all available information in this post.  It is not so much about the story itself as it is about the local public response.

The New York Times

Justice Dept. Accuses Albuquerque Police of Excessive Force


ALBUQUERQUE — At least 37 times in the last four years, police officers here have responded to threats with bullets, killing 23 people and wounding 14 others. On Thursday, the Justice Department weighed in with a scathing assessment, accusing the Albuquerque Police Department of a “pattern or practice of use of excessive force” that routinely violated people’s constitutional rights.

The changes called for by the Justice Department — 44 remedies in all — included extensive revisions to the department’s use-of-force policies. The term “force” would be more clearly defined, and officers would have to report to superiors when they used various tactics: choke holds, kicks, leg sweeps and tackles. Under the recommendations, officers would be trained to rely more on verbal warnings and less on stun guns, and new recruits would be required to undergo psychological, medical and polygraph examinations to assess their fitness for the job.

Also recommended: clearer procedures for handling people with mental illnesses and minimizing the use of unnecessary force against them, as well as an expansion of the number of officers trained to work with them. 

[link to original article NY Times - here.]

Daily KOS

Breaking: Brutally Frank DoJ Report Says Albuquerque Police Use Unjustified Deadly Force.
THU APR 10, 2014 AT 09:14 AM PDT

A 46-page report on unjustified police violence in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was just released by the Department of Justice at a highly anticipated press conference in the wake of the execution of James Boyd, a mentally ill man, by APD last month and the release of a graphic video. A few key points:

Officers too often use deadly force...
Officers use tasers on people who are non-threatening or unable to comply...
Officers use too much force on people who are mentally ill too often.

From the [DOJ] report:

We reviewed all fatal shootings by officers between 2009 and 2012 and found that officers were not justified under federal law in using deadly force in the majority of those incidents.

We have reasonable cause to believe that officers of the Albuquerque Police Department engage in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including unreasonable deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment and Section 14141. A significant amount of the force we reviewed was used against persons with mental illness and in crisis. APD’s policies, training, and supervision are insufficient to ensure that officers encountering people with mental illness or in distress do so in a manner that is safe and respects their rights. The use of excessive force by APD officers is not isolated or sporadic. The pattern or practice of excessive force stems from systemic deficiencies in oversight, training, and policy. Chief among these deficiencies is the department’s failure to implement an objective and rigorous internal accountability system. Force incidents are not properly investigated, documented, or addressed with corrective measures. Other deficiencies relate to the department’s inadequate tactical deployments and incoherent implementation of community policing principles.

We find that the Albuquerque Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of unreasonable use of deadly force in officers’ use of firearms. We reviewed all fatal shootings by officers between 2009 and 201221 and found that officers were not justified under federal law in using deadly force in the majority of those incidents. This level of unjustified, deadly force by the police poses unacceptable risks to the Albuquerque community.

[link to original article Daily KOS here.]

Additional links:

ALIBI: [local press] about the Boyd shooting - ALIBI here.
DOJ Investigation Report - Provided by Albuquerque Journal: Findings, US Department of Justice
CBS News: (caution: contains lapel camera video) - CBS article and video

There are plenty of articles from differing points of view available in a GOOGLE search.  

"Low Hanging Fruit" - The Small Picture
Details, Outrage and Outrageous Details

The Boyd killing represented a number of things, "low hanging fruit-wise."  The deadly encounter was captured on an unavoidable, inescapable video by a lapel camera on one of the officers.  This visibility immediately moved the matter into the media, always anxious to broadcast stories that didn't require any particular journalistic reporting.  The killing was also a monument to "the straw that broke the camel's back."

The dutiful liberal side of Albuquerque's population went to the streets. [FOX reported this as a "race riot."]  There were a number of protests, a few with some violence.  Emotions were high. The Albuquerque police sent to control the protests enjoyed the unenviable position of being precisely the people the protesters were protesting.

City officials rushed to the handy microphones to pronounce the killing as "justified," citing a predictable plethora of "department regulations."  This was nothing new.  The same script, the same justifications and the same department regulations had been before that camera plenty of times in the past.  The local Mayor, Police Chief, District Attorney and a few of their familiars marched lock step into this most recent "completely routine" repetition of "We're always sorry, but we don't intend to do anything any differently."

The Mayor and his Police Chief [image source]
MeanMesa watched local television report as both of these men stated that police department protocols had been followed -- then MeanMesa watched both of them back track after the citizen protests began.

About this time the family and friends of the other corpses left behind by the APD began to speak. While it turns out that hardly anyone knew Boyd personally, dozens of the other victims had living, breathing, surviving relatives who had plenty to say.

Flying in "out of the blue," however, was the DOJ investigation findings.  This process had begun months before, and, typical for the DOJ, had been so ominously silent that no one here expected much from it.  Either by pre-arranged schedule [most likely the case], by a portentous coincidental calamity or by an "administrative nudge," the DOJ's findings were a bombshell.  Once the DOJ had "shown its hand," the corporate national media lurched into action.

Remarkably, the Albuquerque story held its own for a few news cycles amid the lost Malaysian airliner and Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

Why does MeanMesa consider all of this to be "low hanging fruit?"

First, when MeanMesa uses that term, it should not be interpreted as any criticism whatsoever of the fellow citizens who stepped forth to raise hell.  No part of the effort was unimportant or unnecessary.  Every event mentioned above powered this outrage to its correct volume.

Instead, MeanMesa wants to emphasize that just about everything that "happened" on the street, in the local news casts, in the Mayor's office, at the Police Department's briefing and so on, was very much "detail oriented."  The protesters were not "standing forth" on general issues of ideology, individual preference or philosophy. There was no confusion.  An interview with any one of them would have revealed that he or she knew exactly what they were protesting and why.

Even the DOJ findings were quite detailed.  The 46 page report ran through one APD killing after the next, reaching a similar conclusion about the lack of "justification" for almost all of them. The "details" went even further.  The DOJ findings included four dozen or so "remedial" requirements for police training, use of lethal equipment and so forth.

All of this is as it should be.  The attraction of citizens to specific complaints and specific changes is completely understandable and necessary.

But, does this effort rise to "full consummation" when all the details have been noted, and all the specific changes enacted?  All that work could certainly go along way to "patch up" the tatters of  officer behavior and civilian-police department relations, but what if the essence of the problem is even more fundamental than any collection of "details" like these?

MeanMesa suspects this is the case.

It's time for the "big picture."

The "Big Picture"
Is all this violence really "just in our blood?"

MeanMesa will be the first to acknowledge that Albuquerque is in a state of "armed conflict."  Of course, this old geezer is somewhat unsettled by the prospect of taking a round in a "justifiable police shooting," now that we have all seen what that's like.  So, what's to be done?  Pack a pistol on this belt next to my cell phone?

Yes, like most people in Albuquerque, MeanMesa is armed, but the household rule is that the pistol must not be taken outside the front door.  That pistol has been cocked and chambered only once while MeanMesa's Galactic Headquarters has been resident in the city, and on that occasion, thankfully, it got "un-cocked" and "unloaded" a few minutes later.  There was an uninvited "somebody" ready to climb up the stairs in this apartment -- somebody who left with the sound of that pistol "cocking."

If you are prowling around in Galactic Headquarters uninvited, and you hear a pistol cocking, you should consider leaving.

Also, it really isn't just the police who are performing all this mayhem.  If that were the case, the problem would be far simpler to solve.  There are regions in this small city where gun fire is fairly common, mostly fellow citizens shooting at each other, but infrequently, shooting at the police or being shot by the police. There almost certainly a dull, drunken story unfolding with every sound of that distant gunfire.

None of that is particularly unique among American cities, larger or smaller than Albuquerque. However, when there is the equivalent of a mass grave being patiently filled with the grisly remains of "justified police shootings," that "uniqueness" falters.

How did we get here?

In fact, where is "here?"

"Here" is the place where we see the disgusting testimony of men driven by morals instead of men driven by conscience.  Around this particular "here," those men have guns.

Let's take a look at a few "suspicious features" of Albuquerque's "gentle drift" to growing violence.  There are plenty of issues, but for this post a general model may suffice.  We actually see evidence of a nasty pattern followed by the social culture as it slides from a reasonably settled community to an unreasonably violent one.  As is usually the case while observing such patterns, it is also both interesting and necessary to "drill down" in search of the parties most likely to benefit from the growing mayhem.

The cycle is hardly obscured, and events in Albuquerque are a sickeningly transparent copy. Similar "benefiting parties" hope to benefit from mayhem in Albuquerque in roughly the same manner as such "parties" hope to benefit from mayhem elsewhere.

If you wanted a growing distrust of government and a continuously increasing stoic acceptance for the "legitimacy" or "inevitability" of social brutality, a consistently more violent relation between citizens and police would be a great way to accomplish it.  What began as a a citizen or police shooting here or there has been transformed into the equivalent of a military combat arena.

All the associated personal relation responsibilities traditionally inherent in wearing a badge have been set aside, exchanged for far more convenient matters of fire power and the application of lethal force. The city and its police force did not migrate overnight from what had previously been a fairly traditional relationship to the militarized nightmare we have now.

That ugly transformation was a slow, steady, reciprocal process.  As the police became steadily more violent, the criminals provided by the city matched the pattern.  As the predictable likelihood of facing opposition grew more and more inclined to respond violently during police contacts, the police responded with even more violent tactics.

This bounced back and forth like a ping pong game where both players anxiously returned the ball more and more violently each time.

Now, under more normal conditions rational players -- probably on both sides -- would have consciously or unconsciously decided to "put on the brakes" at some point.  Not in Albuquerque's case.

The picture isn't complete until we add a "little something" about the phenomenal psychology which was also a necessary element of the explanation.

The Psychology of Murder and Mayhem
Behind every trigger finger, there is a mind.

We can speculate about the psychology we might have expected to encounter in what might be considered "traditional police officers."  These would be the bossy, yet approachable, authority figure types we were accustomed to four or five decades ago.  Anyone the age of MeanMesa knew policemen like this.  They were the police who rounded us up when we were being too drunk and too wild. They were the ones who were absolute experts at "reading us the riot act" as a very intentional, very memorable threat to induce us to "change our ways."

These were the police who reluctantly pitched us into the drunk tank to sober up as they were conveniently neglecting to write out a criminal complaint.  These were the ones who told us to shut up and then slammed the door so our adolescent rants wouldn't interrupt their late night gin rummy game at the station.  Then, that "riot act" was delivered quite forcefully amid the haze of our morning hang overs.

These police were definitely not afraid of us, but they didn't hate us -- although they probably got tired of repeatedly dealing with our antics.  They probably had conversations with each other which began with "I just don't know what's wrong with these kids today."

They didn't shoot us. They only very rarely ever shot anybody. They didn't scream "get on the ground."  They didn't automatically reach to un-holster their side arms.  The result was that things were pretty peaceful -- at least, compared to now.

Those old style police went to work every morning in pretty much the same state of mind as the baker or the plumber.  Not any more.  That's where the strange psychology comes into the picture.

MeanMesa has some rather troubling suspicions about the state of mind one might encounter with these new police.

The APD sends a silent message about this.  It seems as if they head out to work totally juiced up with reactionary media, ankle deep in a subconscious obsession with "manning up" to stop a hostile, destructive world intending to crush everything of value.  They don't see their role as that of law enforcement so much as being burdened with a terribly unjust responsibility of defending some ill defined geo-political end game.

What were previously merely violations of the laws are now seen as dangerous incursions on the fabric of society.  You know.  The kind one might hear in the relentless dark eschatology painted by the FOX pundits.  That kind of "media" has quietly coerced all sorts of self-esteem challenged folks with otherwise relatively pleasant lives into the synthetic mind set that they are "oppressed."

When that toxin penetrates a structure such as the APD, the healthy men with guns and badges actually begin to consider themselves "victims."  They become infatuated with the now highly embellished idea that "their lives are on the line" every second of every minute that they are on duty, an unexamined psychology which begins to "justify" just about anything.

In 2014 even the commercials indulge this same fear soaked dread.  It sells expensive cars that protect from a crash.  It sells services that protect from identity theft. It sells medicine that protects from all manner of infirmities.  Ours has become a culture of the tragically insecure, desperately seeking protection, refuge, certainty, control and authority from all the wrong places.

This is the "food" for the modern police, but it's not very nutritious food.

An equivalent sickness has infested those in control of the police.  MeanMesa has even more troubling suspicions about them, too.  The city's politicians and police chief must assume that the only folks they must satisfy are quaking and quivering in the six digit houses with fences and gates. There are a lot more people in Albuquerque than the ones who invite these "notables" for luncheon and cocktails, but when these other faces are never a part of any picture, the already tattered rights of the masses continue to evaporate.

Peering even deeper into the abyss, we see the dark absolute determinism of the evangelicals.  We see this in the mayor's office, the police chief, the district attorney and far too many of the men with badges on the street.  That toxic religious mind set erases the personal necessity of weighing the conscience behind that trigger or at the news conference where "things are justified" -- at least so long as the "department protocol" is firmly in hand, handy to replace any troublesome pangs of conscience.

Conclusions, Conclusions

Most of the audible rhetoric on this subject includes something or other about "restoring trust." That could, probably, be accomplished given sufficient time, but the "fly in the ointment" emerges when the plan to "restore trust" is only a minute departure from the plan which "destroyed trust" in the fist place. Untrustworthy people tend to remain untrustworthy. Administrative tweeking with the addition of a few palliative new protocols might establish a sort of "cease fire," but the tax paying citizens don't seem likely to have much appetite for minor corrections.

The topic came up in a conversation between MeanMesa and a quite civilized, relatively normal young Albuquerque teen.  His comment was chilling.

"The police act like that because they don't think anybody will ever shoot back."

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