The militarization of local police forces has been on display as anti-riot squads have responded to Black Lives Matter protests in cities across the country. Monique Salhab of Albuquerque is a military veteran who fought in the Middle East. She now sits on the National Board of Directors of Veterans for Peace. She spoke with KUNM’s Khalil Ekulona about the rise in military-style tactics among police and what it feels like to fight for justice amid a pandemic.
KUNM: How does one navigate the pandemic as well as the civil awareness? How are you holding on with these things?
MONIQUE SALHAB: For me personally, [it's] trying to stay in a constant state of awareness of just where my body is and how my body is feeling. So often we get disconnected from our bodies and our minds. And I think especially over the last few months, it's been even easier, moreso with messaging and with the suffering that we're witnessing, and those in their communities are experiencing. And then obviously, with the unfortunate violent death of George Floyd to then, physically, viscerally feeling that, and then just the overwhelming need to go into action.
KUNM: And you served in the military, what branch did you serve?
SALHAB: I served both in the Air Force and the Army 10 years and then two tours in Iraq.
KUNM: Let me ask you: as a military veteran, and you see these issues happening, and a lot of it is we're talking about police violence. And the militarization of the police but also we have situations where Colin Kaepernick took a knee a few years ago in the NFL and the outcry of "he's disrespecting the flag." As a veteran, as someone who has, you know, fought and defended this country, yet you see the injustices that take place at home, what type of perspective can you offer to our listeners who may not see that who may not see Colin Kapernick's point?
SALHAB: Since 9/11, we have systematically watched across the country police departments become militarized. They have the equipment they have the weapons and their training has been modified to be more militaristic. And so what I continue to hear is how we stratify accountability. What I mean by that is we have what should be wanting justice for George Floyd's death and for his family, and wanting to hold a police officer accountable. But we don't have that same outrage when it comes to the military. No one arrested me when I came home. Wearing a uniform, whether it's a police uniform or military uniform, they don't say this explicitly, but you were taught to dehumanize. In order to dehumanize another human being, you have to dehumanize yourself first.
KUNM: Talk to me about navigating the anger that people are feeling but at the same time, there is a global pandemic that's already made it dangerous to be outside.
SALHAB: I think the beauty though, of what we're seeing across the country and on a global level is that there's a deeper realization of wanting better – knowing that we as human beings in our communities, especially being black, indigenous people of color, that we deserve better. And individuals, like we are willing to put our lives on the line. Yes, our lives are on the line literally every day pre-COVID, so the pieces of the pandemic is an added complexity but has not stopped people from recognizing that we must fight for justice. We must fight to raise the truth of what George Floyd's death symbolized. And to me, like, we cannot stand in fear. And I look at what folks are doing with their fear. They are mobilizing, they're, they're turning it into an action-oriented energy.
This is an excerpt from a longer interview that originally aired on our show Your N.M. Government. Catch it every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m. on KUNM, or find it wherever you get your podcasts.
Your New Mexico Government is a collaboration between KUNM, New Mexico PBS and the Santa Fe Reporter.