By Terry Storch
I have found it difficult to make sense about what happened with the Albuquerque Police Department on the evening of June 15 at the Albuquerque Museum protest of the Oñate statue.
I have received information about that night from national and local news sources, including the Daily Lobo at UNM. They all tell critically different accounts of what happened. The videos, shot from different perspectives at different times, could lead one to think that different events happened in parallel universes. While the blow by blows need to be straightened out for a clearer account to emerge, one thing is above all else most important and irrefutable: APD was not there when it should have been.
The armed militia group, New Mexico Civil Guard, present at the June 15 rally, are well-known to law enforcement as a group that claims a right to be armed and present to protect property at public demonstrations. They constitute a provocative and dangerous presence. They were an obvious presence at a June 1st Black Lives Matter peaceful rally on Central Avenue. When they turned up on June 15, and when it became apparent that some demonstrators wanted to remove the Oñate statue, all the ingredients were there for a violent and deadly confrontation. Clearly, it was vocally tense from the moment the militia showed up, even before any movement was made towards the statue.
Where was APD? Why did they cede the authority to keep peace to an avowedly aggressive and armed private vigilante group? APD were nearby (APD is certainly a visible presence at all other such protests and rallies), but not seen. APD should have been a visible presence. When the militia turned up, there should have been one APD officer toe to toe with each of them, with a shield up between the militia and the protesters, protecting the peace and protecting the protesters. I warrant if APD was there, Steven Baca would not have been emboldened to assault protesters and throw them to the ground, and would not have been emboldened to shoot his gun. If he had nevertheless assaulted protesters, then he would have been detained on the spot.
I do not care if there are tensions between some protesters, who may have called for defunding of police, and APD. That is constitutionally protected speech, and it does not allow APD as a force or as individual officers to take an oppositional view of protesters. Their job is still to protect the community, and that community includes protesters.
There needs to be a public hearing that sheds a bright light on all aspects of the decisions that were made that night by the APD. There is no room for procedural niceties about who can or cannot call for or conduct such a hearing. The community should demand it.