Unrest continues after NM police kill homeless man

After demonstrations over a string of fatal shootings by the police became so heated over the weekend that officers in riot gear lobbed tear gas at an unruly crowd, the governor of New Mexico and Albuquerque city officials urged calm on Monday and reassured a jittery public that investigations of the shootings were underway. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/01/us/officials-urge-calm-as-protests-take-a-turn.html?ref=us

Hundreds have taken to the streets in protest here in recent days over the shootings of Mr. Boyd and other people who most likely had mental illnesses, episodes that have weakened the public’s confidence in the Albuquerque Police Department and underlined the challenges faced by police officers when dealing with people with mental illness. In all, 23 civilians have been fatally shot by the police, and 14 others have been wounded since 2010, a series of events that has prompted a broader federal investigation into the department’s use of force.

The victims have been of various backgrounds. The first, Kenneth Ellis III, 25, was an Iraq war veteran struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, shot while holding a gun to his head in January 2010 at a gas station parking lot, where he had been pulled over by the police over suspicions of driving a stolen vehicle. One of the most recent, Mr. Boyd, was killed after pulling out a pair of knives during a lengthy argument with the police over his illegal camping on a mountainside.

A video of Mr. Boyd’s shooting, captured by an officer’s helmet camera and released by the Albuquerque Police, fueled the latest protests, most dramatically a march on Sunday that devolved from a peaceful demonstration into fiery street confrontations after protesters blocked Interstate 25, which cuts through the heart of the city. Officers in riot gear released tear gas at a crowd of people gathered by the sprawling University of New Mexico campus, some of whom wore the stylized face mask that has become the symbol of the computer hacking collective Anonymous, which claimed responsibility for a cyberattack that disabled the Albuquerque Police website Sunday.

In an interview on Monday, the city’s mayor, Richard J. Berry, said, “I saw the department act with professionalism and restraint throughout the day.”

The shootings — an unusually high number for a department serving a city the size of Albuquerque, with more than 550,000 residents — have raised questions about whether inadequate training may have played a role, Patsy Romero, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in New Mexico, said in an interview. The killings also highlight the increasing use by the police of military-style weapons to fight street crime, which some experts have argued are fundamentally changing the nature of urban police work. In Mr. Boyd’s shooting, on March 16, officers tossed a flash grenade, discharged a stun gun and fired six shots from an assault rifle at him, apparently as he turned away.

In a news conference on Monday, Albuquerque’s police chief, Gorden Eden, who took over the post in February, said he continued to have faith in his officers but announced that the department was nonetheless reviewing how it recruited and trained them. One of the officers who fired at Mr. Boyd, Keith Sandy, left his last job as a state police trooper under a cloud, having been accused of working a second job while on the clock.
Chief Eden described the demonstration on Sunday as a peaceful protest that turned into “lawless acts by a very angry mob.”
Officers used tear gas twice that night — outside the University of New Mexico campus and near the Interstate — seeking to disperse the crowd after they spotted a man brandishing an AK-47, Chief Eden said.
Several times, he defended his officers’ response, saying they showed “remarkable restraint,” and adding, “They were spit on, rocks were thrown.”
The F.B.I.’s review of the shooting of Mr. Boyd is the first known criminal investigation of the Albuquerque Police Department by the federal authorities, but it comes on the heels of a civil use-of-force inquiry initiated by the Justice Department in 2012. The state’s attorney general, Gary K. King, is also investigating Mr. Boyd’s shooting, as well as the fatal shooting of Alfred Redwine, whom the police shot after he opened fire on them outside a housing complex last week.
“They shoot first and ask questions later,” Christian St. John, 42, a salesman at a furniture store here, said as he walked along the southeastern edge of downtown, echoing an overwhelming sentiment in this city, which is that the police are not to be trusted.
The city dispatched a crew of workers Monday morning to clean up graffiti sprayed during the protest, including on the walls of a police substation on the university campus. As they did it, cracked eggs glistened in the midmorning sun by the substation’s door.

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