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Protests Against Police Brutality Plunge Into Chaos in New Mexico

The mayor of Albuquerque said that demonstrations over the recent police shooting of a homeless man turned into “mayhem" on Sunday.
March 31, 2014, 5:30pm
Photo by Kendra Tuthill

Demonstrations over a recent police shooting turned into what the mayor of Albuquerque called “mayhem" on Sunday, as protesters there clashed with police during a 10-hour long rally.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets and freeways of New Mexico’s largest city in response to the death earlier this month of James Boyd, a homeless man who was fatally shot after a three hour-long confrontation with police over illegal camping.

Protesters repeatedly marched from downtown Albuquerque to the University of New Mexico campus, around two miles away, blocking traffic and shouting anti-police slogans. As tensions escalated, officers responded with tear gas.

The videos below show protesters, carrying signs that read “End The Police State” and "Who's Next?" confronting police in riot gear. Other footage shows demonstrators marching, including some wearing Anonymous masks and walking up to officers.

Videos show demonstrations against police brutality in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Sunday.

Jesse Darling, a local filmmaker who captured some of the footage, told VICE News that he saw at least four people get arrested.

Official confirmation of the number of arrests was not immediately available as the Albuquerque Police Department did not respond to calls by VICE News.

“The crowd was generally pretty peaceful and there wasn’t too much aggression until a bit later in the evening,” Darling said. “Then it turned into more kind of an Occupy crowd, and that’s when police started throwing tear gas canisters.”

'We drastically need to address the growing police state that has occupied our country... APD, you now have the full attention of Anonymous.'

“At some point they got on a megaphone and said that anybody who’s actually in the street is going to get arrested,” he added. “I think there will be more protests. The crowd got pretty upset after getting tear gassed and pushed back last night. It definitely made people angry.”

A police officer was injured in the clashes, city officials said. Some protesters reportedly threw rocks and attempted to break into a police car they had surrounded.

“We respected their rights to protest, obviously,” Albuquerque’s mayor Richard Berry told reporters. “But what it appears we have at this time is individuals who weren't connected necessarily with the original protest. They've taken it far beyond a normal protest.”

The videos below show confrontations on Sunday evening, as the police presence grew heavier and officers fired tear gas at protesters.

Tensions between protesters and police escalated as the demonstrations carried into the evening.

The shocking video of Boyd’s shooting, which was captured by an officer’s helmet-mounted camera and released by police, went viral and drew stern condemnation.

The grisly video of police fatally shooting a homeless man sparks protests. Read more here.** **

Police said that Boyd, who was 38, had a history of violent crimes and had threatened to kill the officers that eventually shot him. Boyd was reportedly mentally ill, with some reports suggesting he might have suffered from schizophrenia.

Video of the shooting of James Boyd was released by police earlier this month.

But Boyd’s death was only one in a long string of police shootings in New Mexico — there have been 37 since 2010, of which 23 were fatal.

“New Mexico is a small state and the police culture here seems to be growing more paramilitary in nature,” Frances Madeson, a local novelist who organized an earlier protest in memory of Boyd, told VICE News. “Increasingly you see people who defy the police as power figures and are being hurt badly.”

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Madeson added that Boyd was “executed without a trial.” But police experts said the officers on the scene had likely followed protocol.

“Use of force never looks pretty,” Maki Haberfeld, Chair of the Law and Police Science program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told VICE News after the video of Boyd’s death was released. “Since officers are wearing these mounted cameras, they are on their best behavior so to speak — it would be very hard to say they are not following their own protocol.”

The US Justice Department has been investigating the Albuquerque police department for more than a year, after several allegations of civil rights violations and abuse of force, which New Mexico residents say have gotten progressively worse. The FBI also opened an investigation into Boyd’s death.

“We would always hear stories about it, but it didn’t come down to shooting unarmed people, that’s definitely the thing that set off the crowd,” Darling told VICE News, referring to the state's reputation for police brutality. “The APD obviously needs to change.”

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The “hacktivist” group Anonymous also accused the police of brutality in a video in which it condemned the attack on Boyd as the work of “militarized thugs.” The group called on local residents to occupy the Albuquerque police department and threatened a citywide cyber attack on municipal websites.

“We drastically need to address the growing police state that has occupied our country,” a computerized voice in the video says. “APD, you now have the full attention of Anonymous.”

“We do not forgive, we do not forget,” the video statement concluded.

Anonymous threatened the Albuquerque Police Department in a video posted online.

Responding to those threats, someone at the police department — perhaps not too well-versed in the ways of cyber hackers — thought that deactivating the APD’s Facebook and Twitter accounts would do the trick.

It obviously didn’t — and police had to deal with attacks on its site as well as public derision by the Twitter page Anonymous Operations, which claims to represent Anonymous.

We aren't sure if Albuquerque PD understands what a ddos attack is. Come on let's be serious here, they deactivated their FB and Twitter.

— Anonymous Operations (@YourAnonCentral)March 29, 2014

Albuquerque Police Department, you should have expected us. — Anonymous (@AnonyInfo)March 31, 2014

“We aren’t sure if Albuquerque PD understands what a ddos attack is,” Anonymous Operation tweeted, referring to the common hacker strategy of overloading a server with requests, causing it to shut down.

Photos by Kendra Tuthill.

Sunday's protest followed another large one last Tuesday. That evening, Albuquerque police shot and killed another man, Alfred Redwine, who they said opened fire on officers responding to a call that alleged he had pointed a gun at two girls.

Police recordings, video, and photos seem to corroborate the threats as well as the presence of a gun and the claim that shots were fired, but Redwine's family insisted that he was not armed and only had a cellphone in his hand.

"Tuesday there was an even bigger and far more organized protest," Kendra Tuthill, who was at both protests, told VICE News. "While protesters thought perhaps that their point had been made, that same evening, cops killed another man, showing us that we needed to speak louder and go rogue if we wanted change."

Sunday's protest, she said, came after the earlier plea against police brutality was ignored.

"We want our cops to be heroes, and right now, we are terrified of them," Tuthill said. "We are afraid to ask for help, lest we reach for our cellphones or scratch our chins and be murdered. It is a true fear."

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi