Police brutality should offend nation

Flickr/Rescuenav: An Albuquerque police vehicle.

Albuquerque, N.M., is not a city we often hear about here in the Midwest. Most of our news is centered on local stories such as the rampant crime in Chicago and the happenings of the surrounding states. People tend to care more about what is happening in the areas closest to them rather than states and countries that are hundreds or thousands of miles away. However, it is time for that logic to change.

Recently Albuquerque has been under media scrutiny for a number of reported police brutality incidents.

Flickr/Rescuenav: An Albuquerque police vehicle.
Flickr/Rescuenav: An Albuquerque police vehicle.

Last month, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) attempted to arrest James Boyd, a homeless man, for “illegally camping” in the Sandia Foothills outside of the city. The arrest, however, ended in Boyd’s death after police shot him in the back.

In response to Boyd’s death, protesters have been gathering since March to bring an end to the brutality. At the end of March, almost 200 people gathered in the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice making demands for resignations and reforms.

The tragedy of Boyd’s death is just the latest in a string of brutality incidents associated with the APD.

According to CNN, in one incident, which occurred in January 2010, Kenneth Ellis III, an Iraq War veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, was standing outside of a 7-Eleven with a gun to his own head. Although a crisis intervention negotiator was talking with Ellis in an attempt to calm him down, an APD officer fired at Ellis and killed him.

A few months later, in September 2010, a police officer named Leah Kelly encountered Chandler Barr — a teenager who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and who had a history of suicidal attempts — on his way home from a mental hospital. Kelly shot Barr twice in the chest after he reportedly threatened her with a “kitchen-style” knife, more commonly known as a butter knife. Barr survived the shooting.

In yet another incident in November of 2010, a woman called the APD for help with her brother-in-law, who was threatening to harm himself. When the officers arrived, however, they shot the man in the abdomen, causing him to lose a kidney and part of his intestine.

On Thursday, April 10, the U.S. Justice Department released a report that found the APD “too often use[s] deadly force in an unconstitutional manner in their use of firearms” while using “deadly force in situations where the conduct of the officers heightened the danger and contributed to the need to use force.”

The report also found that of the 20 fatal shootings by police since 2009 most were not constitutional. The Justice Department stated that the majority of those who had been killed by the police were either attempting to harm themselves or were unarmed. These are not situations in which deadly force should be employed.

In addition to lethal force, the Justice Department found the APD’s use of less-than-lethal force (such as Tasers) unconstitutional as well. In one case, police used Tasers on a man who had poured gasoline on himself, effectively setting him on fire and putting everyone in the vicinity in harm.

The APD was also described as using a “significant amount of force” against people with mental disabilities. This immense history of violence suggests there are “systemic deficiencies in oversight, training and policy.” In particular, the Justice Department points out in its report that there is a serious problem with accountability in the APD and something needs to be done to change it.

Why is this important to us Chicagoans?

Even though we are more than 1,100 miles from the police brutality that is happening in Albuquerque, it still should be an important issue to all Americans. Throughout the country, there have been instances of this kind of police violence, though maybe not always on such a large scale.

No matter what state you live in, it should concern you that there is police brutality anywhere in America. The police department is made to protect us, not to attack us or take innocent lives. Across the country, people are afraid of the police and do not trust them for reasons exemplified by the Albuquerque Police Department.

It is our duty as residents of the U.S. to hold our police to a high standard. The more you know about present police violence and stay up-to-date on current issues regarding this problem, the more you will be able to help change this flawed system.

Shanna Johnson is a contributing columnist. You can contact her at sjohnson24@luc.edu

The PHOENIX/Ellen Bauch
The PHOENIX/Ellen Bauch
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