Every day for over a week, masses of people in Albuquerque have showed up in public to condemn state violence against black people and call for systemic change. Though national narratives have characterized Black Lives Matter protests as volatile and prone to violence, Albuquerque saw thousands of people all week peacefully marching, mourning individuals killed by police, celebrating black culture and speaking out. The events this weekend had different organizers and drew different crowds. City administration made it harder to get to many of them, blocking access to most of the Downtown area with concrete barricades starting Friday.
On Friday night, about 300 people gathered in Civic Plaza as the group Millions for Prisoners joined forces with Black Lives Matter to protest police brutality and the prison industrial complex, and to host a community art walk.
Organizer Selinda Guerrero spoke of her husband, who was arrested on a parole violation last week and who she says is being retaliated against for their activism.
"Our short-term ask is that people call Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to free my husband Clifton White who was kidnapped on Monday," Guerrero said. "My long-term goal is to defund systems of oppression and invest in our community."
Andres Valdez, executive director of Vecinos United, says his organization is working on a Senate bill to change how police are prosecuted when they commit a crime.
“Across this country, people are getting killed by police, and excessive force is pure abuse of power," Valdez said. "And also the condonement of the abuse of power, that is to say, police get away with what they want almost with impunity. The people that are responsible that cops are prosecuted when they commit crimes are district attorneys, and they don’t.”
A couple hundred demonstrators from Civic Plaza marched up Lomas to the University of New Mexico, where a candlelight vigil was taking place for Breonna Taylor. She was killed in mid-March by police in Kentucky in her home. She would have turned 27 on Friday. The crowd, hundreds of people—if not thousands—at the Duck Pond, sang "Happy Birthday" to Taylor and "This Little Light Of Mine."
Organizers set up an altar. People sat still and quiet in the grass, holding candles, for well over an hour while speakers talked about what they’ve experienced and what needs to change. Low-flying police helicopters circled above, and the event was surrounded by police cars in the distance.
On Saturday afternoon, about 200 people gathered for another event on Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza, which included musical performances, prayers and speeches.
Mayor Tim Keller spoke, praising the city’s police for reducing its excessive use of force over the last five years. He noted the city has checked off six of the “8 Can’t Wait” reforms for reducing police brutality from the national advocacy group Campaign Zero.
“Now, that doesn’t mean they’re followed all of the time," Keller said. "That doesn’t mean that there are not mistakes.”
Onstage, Deputy Chief Harold Medina touted APD’s commitment to listening to community concerns but was met with calls from the crowd to answer to last week’s arrest of a local black activist for an administrative parole violation that his family says was retaliatory.
"What about Clifton White?" people called out repeatedly. Medina left the podium without acknowledging the questions.
Event organizer Josh Perez with Takeover Productions said he appreciated that Medina spoke but thought he was going to answer questions. “I feel like he let down the city," Perez said. "There’s people crying out in here. He walked off like we didn’t matter. So, that’s where I’m upset with him.”
While the action was peaceful throughout, at one point, large fireworks were set off in the crowd, causing alarm. They sounded like bombs. No one was injured, and attendees calmed down quickly. It was unclear who was responsible.
Sunday afternoon’s Strong Black Fathers event on Civic Plaza was emceed in part by children. Organizer Arthur Bell stressed the importance of teaching anti-racism to kids.
He talked about the school-to-prison pipeline. "As a black child, you are four times more likely to be suspended from school for anything," he said. "Once you start getting suspended, that sets you up in that system."
Bell thanked Mayor Tim Keller for being there and listening instead of speaking.
Salib Mohammed spoke of the history of structural violence against black people in the U.S. "This apathy toward black lives comes in the form of police killings that go unpunished," he said. "The harsh sentences for minor drug offense, and the redlining of our communities that lead to the denial of federal funding, local government and private sector services, health care, quality education and more."
After several speakers and songs, any and all kids were invited to speak. "Black lives have to be treated like people like to," one child said. "And be equal."
Later, over at Roosevelt Park, hundreds gathered for a celebration of black culture, including artist Two Lips, featured in the audio above.