Just blocks from a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Albuquerque on May 28, two black teenagers and two Hispanic teenagers were pulled from a car by Albuquerque police officers in riot gear. They say they were threatened by police— until some protestors arrived on the scene. The youth were taken into custody but released hours later without being charged. Police say they suspect them of firing shots near the protest, an allegation they deny. APD reports they recovered no weapons at the scene. KUNM's Khalil Ekulona spoke with 18-year-old Noah Tapia about his run-in with militarized officers.
KUNM: So what brought you out to the protest on Thursday night?
NOAH TAPIA: I just want to support the movement, just because I'm Hispanic but I got some African American people in my family. My niece is African American, my brother-in-law is, and like a lot of friends who are, so I just wanted to go and support the movement.
KUNM: How many people went to the protest with you?
TAPIA: It was me, my little brother who's 16, and his two friends who are African American. One is 16 and one is 18.
KUNM: What was the vibe of the night?
TAPIA: Yeah, everything was good. Like, we showed up around probably like seven o'clock and everything was perfect. Around like ten o'clock, that's like whenever things started to get a little bit amped up, but like, it was nowhere near to what the protests were after that one. That one was peaceful. But we heard some gunshots and that's like when we wanted to get out of there. And we were driving away and that's whenever we got pulled over by the cops a block away from Wyoming and Central where the protest was.
KUNM: Tell me what was it like when you got pulled over by the cops?
TAPIA: Yeah, as soon as they pull me over, they immediately asked me to turn off the car and to throw the keys out the window, so that's what I did. That was a scary, you know, they were slamming my little brother and his friends on the ground. They had guns to their face. They did the same thing to me. And I did ask them why I was being arrested and they wouldn't tell me at all.
KUNM: I know this is hard for you. What did that feel like?
TAPIA: Yeah, it was really scary just because they were yelling at my little brother's friend who was 16 as well, telling him that are going to shoot him, you know, and just with everything going on, I was really scared for them just because -- people of color, you know, I was just really scared for them. I was scared for myself. And it was something scary, just having those guns pointed at your face for no reason. They did tell my little brother to get up and as soon as he got up they body slammed him on the ground. They gave him some bruises and stuff and he did ask for medical attention later. They denied it.
KUNM: About how many police officers were there?
TAPIA: There's probably around 10 police officers and they look like they're supposed to be an army or something. They have big old guns and yeah, I was just wondering why they needed all that just for a couple of teenagers,
KUNM: Were you or anybody else, were you all put in cuffs?
TAPIA: Yeah, we were put in cuffs whenever all the protesters showed up and they came for our defense. That's when that happened. And as soon as they started showing up, that's when they pulled us up off the ground and tried to act like, nothing happened. My little brother and his friends who were 16 years old were asking to speak to the parents and they said that they cannot do that. They weren't allowing them to.
KUNM: How long did they hold you all?
TAPIA: Two - three hours.
KUNM: What was it like when you were released? Tell me that story.
TAPIA: Yeah, they just had me sitting there for hours just not telling me at all was going on. And out of nowhere I saw my brother. He got released back to my dad and then his friend got released back to his parents as well. But with me, they drove me farther into the war zone and just left me in the middle of the war zone with nothing at all at two in the morning. I begged them, I was like, "Can you at least somebody, give me a ride or something?" "No, no, that's not our problem." They just joked around about it. They just thought it was funny.
KUNM: Talk to me about what type of impact do you think this is gonna have on your life and what you do going forward.
TAPIA: I'm just gonna feel like I can't call the cops for help. You know, like, from what I saw, it seems like they don't want to help. I know there's some good cops out there, but the ones I saw that night, they weren't here to help me or help the community from here on out it's like, still, I can't trust them. And I should, you know? Like, this is gonna make me cautious all the time around them, when I shouldn't have to. And just because, you know, I just feel like I'm profiled now, especially now they know my car.
KUNM: Is there a message you want to give to the chief of the APD and Mayor Keller?
TAPIA: They didn't have to do all that just for a couple of teenagers. You know, we were just a couple kids just trying to, you know, just go fight for our rights, you know? And they didn't have to do all that to us, you know, put us in an armored vehicle have these guns pointed to our face with guys in bulletproof vests and goggles on, helmets and everything, you know? That night I didn't feel like I was human.
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.