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New Mural Honors Victims Of State Violence In N.M.

Communities across the country are demanding justice for people killed by police. In Albuquerque, the SouthWest Organizing Project is creating a mural to honor victims of police shootings and other forms of state violence in New Mexico. On Friday, organizers invited community members to gather and write the names of victims. KUNM spoke with some folks there. 

Rodrigo Rodriguez, community justice systems organizer at the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP): "We are installing some panels. We'll go with some kind of like retablo-style portraits of folks who've lost their lives to state violence: Rito [Canales] and Antonio Cordova, who were New Mexico Black Berets back in the '70s, who were assassinated by the police. I think Antonio Valenzuela from Las Cruces. James Boyd will also be on this mural. We're also including the two trans women [Roxsana Hernández and Johana Medina Leon], who died in ICE custody here in New Mexico. And it will also feature a big portrait of Valente Acosta-Bustillos. Valente was an immigrant worker. His boss, I think, or his family, called for a welfare check during the quarantine. He hadn't gone to work in a few days and he was the kind of guy that if he didn't go to work, something was wrong. So they sent APD to look for him. And he was murdered in his own home. [APD] said that he attacked them with a shovel. But when you watch the video, he attacks them with a shovel after they've already entered his house, and they're chasing him through his own house. And so he turns around and tries to defend himself with the shovel. They pretty much murdered that guy in cold blood in his own house. It was particularly heartbreaking. It was kind of the impetus for us to want to do this."

"You know, each individual has a story of, kind of, interactions with the police. And then once it became a news story, it became this thing of like, ‘oh, that person deserved to die because they were a meth addict, or because they were homeless, or because, you know, they weren't in this country legally,’ or whatever it is. There's always this rush to justify police violence. And that's kind of what we're really hoping to push back on. The idea is we’re kind of trying to make it look like an altar, like a Día de los Muertos ofrenda. So we just want to uplift these folks and honor their names and their legacies as important folks, and not just, you know, not just victims."

Credit Hannah Colton / KUNM
A poster outside SWOP lists shooting victims of Albuquerque police from 2004-2017. SWOP's new mural includes victims of state violence all over New Mexico.

Yolanda Torres Martinez, SWOP board member: "This is a great project, I believe. Me and my husband, you know, he's had issues with cops before. He just got off work, working hard labor, and he's like – I go, ‘I'm sorry, you got to come work at this.’ He goes ‘No, I don't mind coming to do something like this. He goes, we're gonna do this.’"

"You know, I'm on both sides, because I have a daughter who's a cop, but she's in Valencia County. You know, me and my son go clashing about this all the time. All the time. You know, stuff like this, he says ‘you're fighting against something that your daughter is. You can't be on both sides, Mom.’ I said ‘your sister doesn't have an issue with it. So why should you? She knows I'm fighting for rights.’"

Mikyle Gray, media and communications organizer at SWOP: "There's about 20 to 25 people here. There are some people are using a sponge technique, some people are just going crazy with the brushes. And a lot of people are writing the names, they're starting to write the names of the victims of police violence and excessive brutality from over the years." 

Credit Hannah Colton / KUNM
Community members paint and write on new mural panels outside SWOP on July 17, 2020.

"Police brutality and police violence has been a very big part of our national history, and, you know, the history of New Mexico and Albuquerque. And this mural is gonna bring that to the forefront. It's gonna remind people whenever they drive past, you know, this is something that happens and it's been happening for a while. And even though it's not in the news every day, you know, we’re not protesting in the streets every day. It's still happening and is still going to happen. And by driving past this mural, I think people are going to be able to remember that, hopefully."

SWOP's mural project is ongoing. Learn more on Facebookor at their website.

Hannah served as news director at KUNM and reported on education, Albuquerque politics, and anything public health-related. She died in November 2020.
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