Albuquerque: Police Execute Homeless Man for Illegal Camping

April 7, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


Cold-blooded murder under the color of authority—that's what is made unmistakably clear if you watch the YouTube video of the killing of a homeless man by the police in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The video of the March 16 incident, taken from a cop's helmet camera, shows a group of cops surrounding 38-year-old James Boyd in the Sandia foothills area of the city. The confrontation had begun a couple of hours earlier when the police approached Boyd to arrest him for illegal camping. The video shows Boyd picking up his belongings, apparently complying with the police orders. One cop is heard saying, "I can keep you safe." But then a cop immediately says, "Do it," and a police flash-bang grenade explodes near Boyd. As Boyd turns his back, two of the cops fire six rounds from their assault rifles, and Boyd falls to the ground. Boyd lies face down on the ground—he's still alive, but he's not moving at all and is pleading with the cops to not hurt him further. But the cops fire beanbags and Tasers at his back and sic a police dog to tear at him.

James Boyd died of his injuries the next day.

When this video was posted on YouTube by a local TV station, there was broad outrage. The video has been viewed nearly a million times. There had already been rising anger at the string of deadly shootings by the Albuquerque police, who have killed 23 people by gunfire and wounded 14 others, just since 2010 .

The first victim in the serial police shootings in Albuquerque from 2010 to today was an Iraq war veteran, Kenneth Ellis III, who was reportedly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Ellis was outside a convenience store, holding a gun to his own head, when he was gunned down by an officer. A judge in a civil lawsuit ruled that Ellis was posing no threat to anyone, except to himself, when he was killed.

The murder of James Boyd sparked a righteous protest by hundreds of people who marched and rallied in the streets of Albuquerque from noon to midnight on Sunday, March 30. An Associated Press [AP] news report quoted a 23-year-old protester as being "fed up" with the way the police treat people: "It has reached a boiling point, and people just can't take it anymore." Another protester held up a sign reading "APD: Dressed To Kill," referring to the Albuquerque Police Department, and said, "That's what the police force is about."

The protest involved different groups and included families of some of the people killed by the Albuquerque police. According to the Albuquerque Journal, "Marchers took over much of Downtown and the university area during a daylong demonstration... The march along Central boiled over at several points, with protesters ignoring police commands to disperse and having a standoff with officers in riot gear." AP reported, "The protesters repeatedly marched the 2 miles from downtown Albuquerque to the University of New Mexico, holding signs protesting recent police shootings and often snarling traffic." At one point, the marchers disrupted traffic on Interstate 25. As the protest continued into the evening, riot police used tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowds.

Boyd apparently had a history of mental illness and run-ins with the police. According to the New Mexico Public Defender Department, almost 75 percent of people shot by the Albuquerque police in 2010 and 2011 suffered from mental illnesses. And the pattern is similar across the U.S.—an April 1, 2014 New York Times article cited an estimate based on informal studies and accounts that "half the number of people shot and killed by the police have mental health problems."

The way that cops so often treat people with mental illnesses as dangerous "criminals"—instead of approaching them with compassion and genuine interest in helping them out—is a concentration of the role of the police under this system of capitalism. Their role is not to actually serve the people, but to serve the interests of the system of exploitation and oppression that rules over the people. And as Bob Avakian has pointed out, under a different system, a revolutionary state power, "...we would sooner have one of our own people's police killed than go wantonly murder one of the masses." (See BAsics 2:16)

When the video of James Boyd's killing became public, the police chief immediately declared that the officers had acted with "restraint" and that the shooting was justified because Boyd had "threatened" a K-9 (police dog) officer, who supposedly had no firearms, with knives. A bunch of cops, armed with rifles and other weapons, corner a man who at most has knives... and they're the ones that feel "threatened"? Anyone who honestly looks at the video of the shooting can see how this justification turns reality completely on its head.

Faced with broad outrage at the killing and at the police chief's justification, the mayor said the chief "shouldn't have said that," and promised to "thoroughly and comprehensively go through the process." This is a bad movie we've seen over and over again, all over the country: When the authorities can't immediately close the books on a police shooting as "justified," there are promises of "investigations," which in the vast majority of cases end up with the same result. The Albuquerque police have already been under federal Department of Justice investigation because of the 37 shootings since 2010. Whatever the particular results of these investigations, they will not change the basic nature of the police under this system as a force that stands in antagonistic relation to the people.

Across the U.S., youth of color, people in the oppressed neighborhoods, the homeless, and others are treated like criminals, brutalized, and killed by the system's armed enforcers—and this reactionary violence is declared "justified" by those in authority. We must act to resist and stop this intolerable injustice.

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