I’ve come to fear the protectors

I have a mentally ill son…

…I met with his vice principal, special education director, social worker and the Albuquerque police officer assigned to his school…. I left with their sympathy and the officer’s directive to call 911 every time my son became violent, something he said I should have been doing all along. I needed a paper trail, he said. I needed to be safe.

But, I told the officer, I was more afraid of what APD might do to my son than what my son might do to me.

That meeting was six days before James Boyd, a mentally ill man camping illegally in the Sandia foothills, became the 22nd person to be shot and killed by the Albuquerque Police Department since 2010.

This post originally occurred in the Albuquerque Journal on March 26, 2014:

I’ve come to fear the protectors, Joline Gutierrez Krueger / ABQ Journal

I have a mentally ill son who has spit in my f ace.
He has pushed me down, slapped me, threatened me with a knife.

He has been seen by numerous therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists. He has been medicated. He was hospitalized briefly once and has been in residential treatment twice.

But as every parent of a mentally ill child knows, there is little our behavioral health system will do unless his actions pose an immediate danger to others or himself.

For the most part, my son functions well below that level. He is like the New Mexico sky: mostly sunny and bright until the next storm rolls in.

Sixteen days ago, I met with his vice principal, special education director, social worker and the Albuquerque police of f icer assigned to his school to brainstorm about what could be done to salvage his academic career after his suspension for punching a fellow student.

We came up with nothing.

I left with their sympathy and the officer’s directive to call 911 every time my son became violent, something he said I should have been doing all along. I needed a paper trail, he said. I needed to be safe.

But, I told the officer, I was more afraid of what APD might do to my son than what my son might do to me.

That meeting was six days before James Boyd, a mentally ill man camping illegally in the Sandia foothills, became the 22nd person to be shot and killed by the Albuquerque Police Department since 2010.

Boyd’s death and what led up to it – most of it captured on APD video – has sparked outrage and done more to cement Albuquerque’s reputation as a dangerous city than any episode of “Cops” could ever do.

Whatever confidence and good will APD held onto through all of its shootings and highly publicized misdeeds appears to have all but vanished.

On Tuesday, citizens rallied Downtown against police brutality. Sales have been brisk for T-shirts inscribed with “APD” in bold, bullet-riddled typeface – the acronym now referring to Another Person Dead.

“We are all ‘Homeless New Mexico Man,’ ” said a supporter on one of several Facebook pages that have sprouted up in the aftermath of Boyd’s death.

Think of this: New York City is 16 times as populous as Albuquerque, yet its police force has shot and killed slightly fewer than twice as many people as APD has since 2010.

Boyd, 38, is not someone you might have expected to attract such public sympathy and incite such public rage f or the way he was killed. He was homeless, erratic, dangerous. He may have been suf f ering f rom paranoid schizophrenia. His long and violent criminal history includes punching an APD of f icer hard enough to break her nose. During the March 16 standoff, he promised to hunt down the officers and kill them.

“I wouldn’t trust him walking away from me,”a former Bernalillo County prosecutor who knew Boyd told me. “Of course, knowing his history and not wanting to let him go does not justify using bullets.”

It’s possible that, were it not for the video, his demise might have been just another APD shooting, soliciting only momentary outrage.

But the video exposes the ugly disparity between what APD Chief Gorden Eden at least initially called a justified shooting and what many believe was an execution.

(Eden revisited his comment Monday, calling it a premature assessment.)

In the video, Boyd appears to have acquiesced to the demands of a group of APD officers, their weapons trained on him, after nearly fours hours of negotiations. Inexplicably, a flash-bang device is tossed at his feet. Police bark commands. Boyd appears disoriented. He pulls out two small knives from his pockets.

And then he turns away.

Shots crack the air, including lethal rounds fired by officer Dominique Perez and detective Keith Sandy. Boyd falls, blood spatters.Apolice dog chomps at his leg.Beanbag rounds fly.

“Please don’t hurt me anymore,” he says.
He died the next day.
In Boyd, some of us see our loved ones. We see our sons.

“The officers appear to have no understanding for how a mentally handicapped person thinks, behaves and reacts to noises and f lashes,” wrote reader Ray Scarpetti. His son has a f orm of autism, severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, he said. “I can only imagine the confusion and horror that went through Mr. Boyd’s mind before he was shot and killed.”

We can, for now, only imagine why the of f icers shot and killed Boyd af ter it appeared he was calm and cooperating. But we must demand we f ind out.

Let’s be clear. Not all APD of f icers shoot so cavalierly, and we know the tragedy that can occur when a violent, mentally ill person wields the weapon.

But how many more must die before APD makes enough meaningful changes to the way it cleans its house, prosecutes its wrongdoers, trains its cadets, hires its officers, promotes its leaders, opens wide its doors to better transparency?

It’s a question we all must demand an answer to.

As for my son, the skies have cleared again. I pray the sun keeps shining on us, on everybody.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor. 

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