Two weeks after presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s rally rattled Albuquerque, fallout from the explosive event drapes the local political scene.
The issue dominated a good portion of the June 6 session of the Albuquerque City Council, where concerned citizens, city councilors and the administration of Mayor Richard Berry all weighed in on an evening that has been framed as a “riot” by many media outlets but challenged as such by many speakers at this week’s meeting.
Albuquerque City Council Vice President Klarissa Peña got the ball rolling on the Trump affair when she seized the opportunity of Albuquerque Police Department (APD) Chief Gorden Eden’s presence at Monday’s meeting. Peña remarked that some protesters told her about being cornered by police outside the Albuquerque Convention Center, where Trump spoke.
“I was disappointed how a peaceful protest turned against our community,” Pena said.
Nonetheless commending Eden and his officers for their performance the evening of May 24, Peña asked Albuquerque’s top cop if he had a response to her concerns — a request Eden declined. Peña lamented “the black eye” Albuquerque got nationally after trashing, rock-throwing and other acts of vandalism followed a peaceful protest attended by upwards of 1,000 people, according to different reports.
Testimonies and statements at the June 6 meeting actually painted a picture of two events — the peaceful protest that began hours before the night fell and the violent outbursts that transpired later on. The latter episode “didn’t help anybody’s cause,” Peña insisted, adding she talked to police officers including some who “fended off protesters” but ironically were in agreement with the anti-Trump demonstration.
Of course, Albuquerque is far from alone in experiencing violence at a Trump rally. To name only a couple of other examples, clashes at Trump rallies in San Diego (May 27) and San Jose (June 2) followed on the heels of Albuquerque. It remains to be seen if the tone and tenor of Trump events in Albuquerque and California in recent weeks will extend into the fall presidential campaign, testing for the future basic rights of assembly, freedom of speech and public safety.
Several speakers during the public comment session of the Albuquerque City Council meeting cited video and eyewitness accounts of events largely ignored in media coverage of May 24 — including assaults on protesters inside the Convention Center, the trampling of an elderly Native American man by an APD horse, and provocative pro-Trump statements by some officers.
Media activist Steve Kramer said the interaction between APD and community protesters was “pretty darn good” until police attempted to implement a plan of moving people to a direction where there was no place to readily go. The shift in the nature and the mood of the evening is documented on video, he said.
City Councilor Pat Davis, who is a former police officer, remarked that two of the groups organizing the anti-Trump protest, the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) and Davis’ own group, ProgressNow New Mexico, worked with APD to get the proper permits while the chief of the New Mexico State Police later commented that there was a distinction between non-violent and violent groups of protesters.
Fellow City Councilor Ike Benton praised SWOP for acting as peacekeepers on May 24. “I think they were trying hard to keep the peace along with the police,” Benton said.
“If we can alleviate anything in the future, we have to do it so people are safe,” Peña concluded. “I think at the end of the day there is a valuable lesson for all of us to learn from.”
The arrest of a 14-year-old
APD has arrested several suspects in the May 24 violence, including a 14-year-old boy one speaker at the city council meeting described as a star student without a police record. The Bernalillo County district attorney announced shortly after the boy’s arrest that he would be prosecuted as an adult on felony charges for allegedly throwing a rock at an officer.
“Do you want to ruin the life of a youngster before he’s had a chance to live it?” Father Frank Quintana asked at the council meeting.
Joel Gallegos, member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), urged law enforcement to think twice about throwing a 14-year-old in adult prison with murderers, rapists and other “vile” characters. Gallegos expanded the definition of violence being employed during the evening’s discussion, contending violence also consisted of a politician targeting someone for being Mexican or Muslim, or denying employment and health care to an individual.
The PSL’s Marissa Sanchez accused police of posting personal information about protesters, including one who’s already “had his car vandalized.” Sanchez and others demanded the dropping of charges against the arrested protesters.
Drawing loud objections from the audience for intervening in the public comment session, City of Albuquerque Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry said it was important to point out that the minor was arrested for assaulting a police officer with a deadly object. “I want to commend the police department for their actions that night,” he said.
City Councilor Ken Sanchez added that there should have been parental supervision of the teen who was arrested. Earlier in the day, Father Quintana, the PSL, SWOP and the Red Nation sent out a press statement that likened the police hunt for May 24 suspects, buttressed by a reward from businesses, to a “witch hunt.” The statement protested “the brutal criminalization of youth protesters” and police actions deemed aggressive.
“The less than $50,000 in estimated property damage pales in comparison to the more than $30 million that our city has had to shell out for APD shooting lawsuits,” Quintana said.
Added SWOP Executive Director Javier Benavidez, who was forcibly removed from inside the Trump rally: “We won’t stand for his campaign’s vitriol and racism against our country’s young people of color, our country’s bright future, and we also won’t stand for their being thrown under the bus as so-called thugs or criminals.”
The arrest of the 14-year-old prompted numerous comments on the Internet, with some posts carrying racial overtones or calling arrested protesters ‘thugs.” Similar to Albuquerque, police in San Jose, Calif., have arrested four anti-Trump protesters and are searching for more in connection with the June 2 events, Bay Area media outlets reported this week.
Police union complains
Back in New Mexico, meanwhile, contentions of police disorganization and unpreparedness at the May 24 Trump rally were separately raised from a distinct perspective — the Albuquerque Police Officers Association (APOA).
In a June 6 complaint filed with the City of Albuquerque Labor-Management Relations Board and posted on Albuquerque media outlet Krqe.com, the APOA accuses the APD leadership and the City of Albuquerque of violating the officers’ collective bargaining agreement by failing “to properly organize the deployment” and skimping on manpower and equipment, resulting in injuries to “a number of officers.”
The complaint additionally charges the administration with trying to cover up a bungled response by ordering members of APD to change their police reports.
Besides the new tensions percolating between rank-and-file members of APD and their brass, the developments related to Trump’s appearance occur in a context of contentious policing reforms mandated by a U.S. Department of Justice investigation that in 2014 determined that local police had engaged in a long pattern of excessive force.
The controversial reform process came up again at the June 6 Albuquerque City Council session when a representative of the Berry Administration assured the elected body that 37 key reforms were almost in place, a step Councilor Davis praised as “the first tangible piece” in creating a modern police force operating on constitutional grounds.
On a general note, resident Brittney Turnbough suggested to city councilors that APD become more efficient and centered in the community, by pursuing policies such as assigning two officers to patrol cars instead of one per unit, requiring prospective candidates to have an associate degree with humanities course work, and having a police officer volunteer in the community before a promotion is granted.
‘Come down to the mosque’
Finally, Albuquerque City Council President Dan Lewis drew heat at the boisterous June 6 meeting, fielding criticisms over his presence at the Trump rally, the presidential candidate’s positions on such issues as immigration, and Lewis’ earlier comments blaming SWOP and ProgressNow New Mexico for creating the atmosphere that precipitated violence on May 24.
Burquemedia’s Dinah Vargas criticized Lewis’ comments as “embarrassing to New Mexico,” while a man named Shakir who identified himself as a member of an Albuquerque mosque chided Lewis for attending the Trump rally.
“I’d be glad to meet with you and discuss it anytime,” Lewis offered.
“Come down to the mosque,” Shakir invited.