Shooting dead of homeless camper sparks outrage against Albuquerque police - the department that kills more people than the NYPD

The latest shocking death at the hands of Albuquerque’s Police Department has sparked protests

US Editor

Captured by a video camera on one of the officer’s helmets, the slaying by Albuquerque police of a homeless camper in the foothills outside the city two weeks ago apparently leaves room for interpretation. The city says it was justifiable self-defence. To others it looked like extra-judicial execution.

The grisly clip, which is still viewable for anyone with a strong stomach, has an awful power all of its own. But it has also become the tragic totem of a wave of civic anger directed at the city’s heavily militarised police department that on Sunday erupted into hours of unrest across the downtown area, leading to serial arrests and a plea for calm from the city’s mayor who said his streets had turned to “mayhem”.

For James Boyd, the fury comes too late. With a long history of mental problems and episodes of violence, he was challenged by three officers on 16 March for camping in an unauthorised area near the city limits. They woke him from sleeping. A three-hour stand-off ensued until, at dusk, he is heard telling the officers he is done arguing and was “going to walk” with them. That is where the episode might have ended.

 

Instead, as Mr Boyd gathers up his things, one of the officers shouts “Do it”. A flash-bang device is fired at his feet.  A startled Mr Boyd drops his bags and seems to take out a knife. He turns away from the officers, two of whom shoot multiple live rounds into his back. Mr Boyd falls, a dog is loosed to check he has been immobilised, the officers approach and cuff his wrists.

He was pronounced dead later in a city hospital.

The killing of Mr Boyd, who was 38, prompted more than the usual handwringing because it seemed less an isolated incident than a confirmation of a pattern.

Since 2010, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) has been involved in 37 shootings, 23 of them fatal. According to the group ProgressNow, its officers shot more people than the NYPD over the same period did in New York – a city 16 times larger.

While Police Chief Gorden Eden said in a later press conference that the actions of the three officers had been justified because Mr Boyd had represented a “direct threat” to their safety, the killing is now being officially investigated by the FBI.

Even before the slaying, the US Justice Department had, for over a year, been investigating wider claims of human rights and other abuses by the APD. Neither probe is yet complete.

The Boyd slaying appears simply to have been one too many.

Or maybe it has had such an impact because it can so easily be viewed. But the city might have guessed at the trouble that was coming when a YouTube video emerged vowing retaliation for the homeless man’s death. Taking credit for the threat was Anonymous, the underground collective that hacks into and debilitates the web sites of those it opposes.

Sure enough, the APD confirmed early Sunday that its website had been broken into and crippled for hours.  At about the same time, the protesters, several hundred of them, were gathering in the centre of Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city. Through the daylight hours they repeatedly marched through downtown, blocking traffic, chanting and brandishing banners demanding that the APD be cleaned out and Chief Eden be forced to resign. For the most part, the marches were peaceful if disruptive.

But by Sunday evening, the mood had changed.

Witnesses reported hours of clashes between the protesters and police in riot gear, some on horseback. News video shows tear gas canisters being repeatedly released into the crowds. In one of the more serious encounters, protesters trapped a squad car and tried to smash its windows with bricks and rocks.

“It has reached a boiling point, and people just can’t take it any more,” said Alexander Siderits, 23, who was among those marching on Sunday, adding that many of the city’s residents were just “fed up” with the police and their record of fatal shootings.

Justin Elder, who followed the march in the safety of his car, held a sign reading, “APD: Dressed To Kill”. He explained: “That’s what this police force is about.”

While the city was reported to be calm yesterday, on Sunday Mayor Richard Berry said its downtown area had been reduced to “mayhem”, blaming outside elements for exploiting the situation. 

“We respected their rights to protest obviously,” he said, “but what it appears we have at this time is individuals who weren’t connected necessarily with the original protest. They’ve taken it far beyond a normal protest.”

Still unanswered is why two of the officers used lethal firearms to take Mr Boyd down instead of stunning him with the taser guns they were also reportedly carrying. They have been placed on paid administrative leave.

The broader debate is about the APD navigating the thin line between reasonable and unreasonable force to  maintain order, and the  apparent unwillingness of the city’s leaders to make sure it isn’t crossed.

“I was a police officer for a decade,” says Patrick Davis, executive director of ProgressNow New Mexico. “The over-militarized approach to law enforcement is having a very real effect on people’s lives here in New Mexico and our leaders who should be taking real action seem to be taking it all in stride.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own