No More Normal: The Streets Are Hot

Aug 2, 2020

In the last weeks of July, we saw high temperatures across the country. The streets heated up, and we’re not talking about the weather. We’re talking about federal forces sent to Portland, Chicago, Albuquerque and other cities. The arrival of these agents was met with public outcry and increased skepticism by lawmakers and residents alike. Others support the move. In episode 3, we take a look at what exactly is going on and what it means for our civil liberties and our democracy.

After President Trump suddenly announced that he was sending federal agents to Albuquerque as part of Operation Legend on Tuesday, July 21, analysts said moves like that are flirting with disaster. We rounded up all the information that we could to try and understand the situation.

Though we heard several times in the course of this episode that Trump is sending 35 agents here only to fight violent crime, late Friday, July 31, Executive Producer Marisa Demarco heard from someone who works in a federal office that’s responsible for oversight (and who did not want to be identified) that there might be other agents from the Federal Protective Service here this weekend to defend U.S. assets, and that they would be here through Sunday, Aug. 2. That agency is reported to have been leading the crackdown in Portland. FPS on its website says agents are in Portland to protect federal properties, statues, memorials and monuments.

What are federal assets in Albuquerque? There’s the courthouse on Lomas and Fourth Street near where demonstrators started their event on Friday. Plus two more buildings Downtown for starters.

A spokesperson for U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson said late Saturday, Aug. 1, that whatever’s going on with the Federal Protective Service is not a part of Operation Legend, and he couldn’t confirm whether those agents were here. We’re still chasing confirmation of FPS being here—or details about how many agents or for how long—and we’ll give you details if and when we can get them on KUNM’s news broadcast or on kunm.org.

Albuquerque Police Chief Mike Geier answered questions about Operation Legend, saying officers will be here to focus exclusively on violent crime and would not be called out to protests and demonstrations the way we’ve seen them in Portland and other cities, teargassing people, tackling them, beating them, breaking bones, injuring them with less-lethal munitions and taking them into custody without cause. Geier also answered questions about where people taken into custody by federal agents would be held, and how their family and friends could find them.

U.S. Attorney for New Mexico John C. Anderson would not commit to officers wearing identification in the field but told KUNM’s Megan Kamerick that they would be wearing some kind of identifying raid jacket when going out to execute warrants or arrests with the Albuquerque Police Department.

Both Geier and Anderson were questioned about what the timeframe of all this could be—Anderson said it’s a 60-day deployment to start with—and what the metric for a completed job would be. Both said the goal is a reduction in violent crime numbers and a sense that the public in Albuquerque feels safe.

Sen. Martin Heinrich and others began calling for Sheriff Manny Gonzales’ resignation after he met with Trump and U.S. Attorney General William Barr the day after news broke that federal agents were coming here. While he was out of town on that trip, one of his deputies also issued the department’s first mask citation for someone who refused to leave a public street in the neighborhood where the deputy was providing security for Gonzales’ home, according to KRQE. Heinrich also points to Gonzales’ longtime opposition to body cameras worn by his law enforcement officers. The KUNM team reached out to Sheriff Gonzales several times for this episode and for KUNM’s live radio show “Let’s Talk New Mexico.” His spokesperson said he was unavailable for either live or pre-recorded interviews.

Demarco and KUNM News Director Hannah Colton recap protests in Albuquerque since the news came down of the feds being deployed to Albuquerque.

Maybe the only point of levity last week was a video circulating on social media called “Tour of the Albuquerque Riot Zone During Operation Legend,” shot in a bright and lovely Downtown. The video’s creator, Brian Lisi, told us about why he made that video.

Mayor Tim Keller talked to KUNM’s Megan Kamerick on “Let’s Talk New Mexico” on Thursday, July 30, about his unabating concerns about Operation Legend and what the city is prepared to do should residents’ civil rights be violated.

Gene Grant with our partner New Mexico PBS spoke with activists from Fight For Our Lives, a network of students and younger organizers about the presence of the agents.

Investigative journalist Bill Conroy in Seattle discusses his articles about how the Federal Protective Service employs mostly private contractors, many of which are poorly screened or trained by private firms because it cuts into overhead.

Tuck Woodstock is an investigative reporter in Portland. They described the scene on the ground and gave updates on the latest info there.

Next Week: The continuing struggle for equity and the people who are working to see it solved, once and for all.

No More Normal is a new show brought to you by the same crew behind YNMG. Hear the show on KUNM’s airwaves Sundays at 11 a.m., or find it wherever you get your podcasts.

Special thanks to:

  • Jazztone the Producer, Cheo, Dahm Life, and Oh Lawd Records for providing music to our show. Khaki, Pope Yes Yes Y’all and Bigawatt composed some of the show’s themes. 
  • Our colleagues at New Mexico PBS and KUNM for sharing interviews with us.
  • Kevin McDonald, Ty Bannerman, Kaveh Mowahed and Bryce Dix, who jumped in on the editing.
  • And always, all of our guests for sharing their stories, lives and perspectives.

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No More Normal is brought to you by Your New Mexico Government, a collaboration between KUNM, New Mexico PBS, and the Santa Fe Reporter. Funding for our coverage comes from the New Mexico Local News Fund, the Kellogg Foundation and KUNM listeners like you, with support for public media provided by the Thornburg Foundation.