Mayor, APD Chief defend response to protest

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – The streets of Albuquerque are calm again, following 12 hours of protests Sunday.

It started with a peaceful protest with people angry over APD’s deadly shooting of a homeless man in the foothills, but Chief Gorden Eden says it eventually got out of control with his officers using tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Chief Eden said Monday he feels his officers handled the situation the best they could. He says most of the day was calm, but then suddenly things took a turn for the worst.

“There was no police presence during protest we had emergency response team deployed to an area that was very far away from crowd very far way only to be called in if some type of emergency and I can tell you that the mob seemed and listen on some of these mob seemed to try to track down where officers were located,” chief Eden said.

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The protest started at noon Sunday.

Protesters walked down Central Avenue on the highway and were met by officers in riot gear.

Chief Eden says officers often stood face to face with protestors who were egging them on trying to incite violence, but officers didn’t react.

At one point, two protestors near Central and Yale, climbed a light police and used a strap to try to pull it down.

Protestors also converged on I-25 and started laying down in the middle of traffic.

Eden says that four protesters were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

Monday Chief Eden was also  pressed on the decision to use gas to clear the crowds not once, but twice.

KRQE News 13 asked the mayor and Chief Eden why. Both say it became necessary as the “mob” got out of hand.

“Things were de-escalated on a regular basis until we got to a point where protesters were laying in the highway, doing damage to personal property and it was that point that decisions were made that arrests needed to be made,” Mayor Berry said.

Crowds of people were lining the streets and sidewalks when the first round of tear gas was given the green light.

Chief Eden said people were calling his department, fearing for their safety. He also says protesters began attacking each other.

The gas helped disperse the crowd, but only for a matter of minutes.

A group of people then went back to Fifth Street and Roma near APD headquarters.

It was there where Eden says a protester pulled out a weapon prompting another round of tear gas.

“We know that he did have a real semi-automatic AK47 and put it back in the van,” Chief Eden said. “We had no idea what else he may or may not have had. He went t into that crowd into that group”

Eden says the man carrying the AK-47 disappeared into the crowd and was not arrested, but they are trying to find him.

He said no protesters were injured, but did say an officer suffered a knee injury.

Organizers of Sunday’s demonstration called another one Monday evening on Central.

Only about a dozen people showed up.

Protest Damage

Sunday’s event drew a crowd of hundreds and they left behind some damage.

The city wasted no time cleaning up the mess. Crews hit the streets early, covering up graffiti all along Central.

A spokesperson with solid waste says graffiti teams saw the news last night and could see they had some work to do. Within a few hours the four one-man teams had just about everything cleaned up.

They were busy covering up anarchy symbols, ‘FTP’ and other words sprayed all along Central spanning from Girard to downtown.

The Triangle Park Police Substation in Nob Hill was hit especially hard, with both graffiti and eggs.

Mayor R.J. Berry says some protesters even damaged random cars as they took to the streets.

“The protestors did do a lot of damage from the stand point of graffiti up and down Central Avenue,” Mayor Berry said. “There were certainly private property that was damaged as well as some automobiles damaged.”

As for a cost, both on clean up and the protest itself, Mayor Berry says it’s still too soon to say.

Protest Reaction

The protests have sparked tension in the community. Some people believe the protesters were right to voice their opinion and others say they embarrassed the city.

Many people who live or work near the protests say at times it got downright scary.

Some say APD officers did a good job maintaining their composure as protestors tried to instigate violence with officers. And say they stayed focused on protecting bystanders and those who were still trying to protest peacefully.

“I think that the police made a good decision in that, they were out there, they were stopping people from going into certain areas because they wanted to protest the surrounding community and, eventually, they had to end the protest at some point and they did so,” Robert Johnston, protest photographer said.

Many say they agree with the initial purpose of the protest but the way it ended was simply violence for the sake of violence.

Johnson is now among the people working to organize a rally in support of APD.

“I think this situation has polarized the community and people are either completely against police or completely for and I would take middle road,” Johnston said. “Am for all officer protect us everyday tragedy of James Boyd shooting something looked into more oversight, doesn’t mean every officer is a thug or killers as some protestors were saying.”

APD Gaining Support

The support for APD is also growing on social media.

The Facebook page, Albuquerque Citizens Supporting APD, has seen a huge jump in members in the last few days and it continues to grow.

This badge says “I Support APD” is also making it’s rounds with many people turning it into their profile picture.

Others are leaving comments on social media and other websites thanking APD for what they do every day.

And officers say citizens are stopping by their substations leaving food and thank you cards.

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