George Floyd was laid to rest in Houston this week, and protests calling for an end to racist police violence are continuing around the country and here in New Mexico. These are usually pretty loud, but one that took place in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill on Wednesday, June 10 was quite different.
A group of nearly three hundred people turned out to walk down Central Avenue. But there was no chanting or shouting.
Mike Silva is one of the organizers. He says he understands the rage many protesters feel right now, "but we’re trying to bring people together in a peaceful manner and do this silent protest because, again, we feel the collective silence is very powerful."
Silva owns Rude Boy Cookies and is a co-owner of the Albuquerque Trolley Co. He organized the protest with fellow entrepreneur Charles Ashley III, founder of Cultivating Coders. It follows one they did last week on Civic Plaza.
Attendees on Wednesday included Mayor Tim Keller, City Councilor Pat Davis and State Auditor Brian Colon, as well as community and business leaders, many of whom Ashley says have probably never attended a protest.
Silva says they’ve been selectively reaching out to people to avoid attracting protesters who might want to cause violence.
Attorney Seth Gardenswartz says it was the personal message he got from Silva and Ashley that helped convince him to come out.
“They really feel something visceral around this and if they feel it, we should feel it too,” he says. “We’re better off as a community if we’re working to make it better, and if we’re not, I don’t know what we’re doing.”
At the end of the march, protestors took 8 minutes and 46 seconds to quietly remember George Floyd – the same amount of time a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck, killing him.
Ashley says he and Silva have met with Albuquerque Police Department Chief Mike Geier and pushed for programs to improve relationships between police and young people where they learn about things like community policing.
“We throw these words out and then you talk to young people and a lot of them will tell you they've never had an interaction with law enforcement, besides maybe like a bad encounter,” Ashley says.
He said they also talked about how APD can ensure it’s not hiring officers who’ve had problematic histories in departments elsewhere.
The Associated Press reported that APD recently promoted Leonard Nerbetski, head of the Real-Time Crime Center, from civilian status to police commander.
Nerbetski’s hiring in 2018 generated anger because of his role in an excessive force lawsuit in New Jersey decades ago. In 1999, an Associated Press report named Nerbetski as one of two officers accused of roughing up two law students, both women of color.
The traffic stop involving Nerbetski and the other trooper led to changes in how New Jersey State Police handle complaints of misconduct.
News of the promotion drew outrage from some Black Lives Matter demonstrators who feared that Nerbetski’s past would cloud his judgment on how to deal with peaceful protesters.
Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos says the department changed Nerbetski’s job to a sworn position because of the combination of managing crime data and field investigation functions.
Ashley says the dialog with APD is ongoing. He and Silva plan to continue the quiet protests each week, moving them around to different parts of the city.