FEATURED PHOTO: Mayor Tim Keller speaks at high-profile news conference about the need for stronger police measures to stop Albuquerque’s violent crime problem. Confused? Read on (Mark Smith/Enchantment Sports).
By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
If only the rest of the United States could learn from Albuquerque.
While controversy rages nationwide over movements to reform, defund and even abolish police, it’s comforting to know that officials from Albuquerque and New Mexico are ahead of the game.
Our powers, after all, are on the same page when it comes to policing in New Mexico.
All I know, is I attended a news conference with a huge group of local leaders, and they all addressed the need for stronger policing as far as Albuquerque was concerned.
They meant business.
The gathering included Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, Police Chief Michael Geier, University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes, 2nd Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez and a statement from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
They all announced measures to make sure we have more policing.
That’s right, the measures included:
- Assigning an additional 50 New Mexico State Police officers from across the state to work out of Albuquerque to join the seven already here.
- Giving UNM police access to an Albuquerque Police Department substation, and having them coordinate patrols with APD officers.
- Expanding the hours of the Triangle Community Substation on Central and Dartmouth until 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays after bars close.
- Stationing three bike patrol teams to work in Nob Hill during the day and three or four additional officers to patrol on Friday and Saturday nights.
Lujan Grisham couldn’t attend the news conference, but released this statement:
“Violent crime in Albuquerque is a scourge, and we will attack the roots of that scourge with targeted deployments of manpower and resources. New Mexico residents must be free to have every expectation of safety in their homes and communities. It’s our duty as a state to take every action we possibly can to realize that freedom, and I’m proud to stand with our partners in Albuquerque in providing immediate, directed assistance.”
Come again, governor?
Confused? So am I.
If you’re wondering how any of those measures will reform, defund or abolish police, you’re just so 2019.
The political winds certainly have shifted, and the flames — many times, literally — are being fanned in a new direction.
It seems like decades ago, but it was only last year at this time when Albuquerqueans — incited by some spinning claims from the UNM athletic department and a complicit Albuquerque media — demanded more police protection for the incredibly dangerous streets of the city.
How soon we forget.
In May of 2019, UNM baseball player Jackson Weller, 23, was shot to death in front of a late-night outdoor Baja Mexican eatery in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill area.
The city was outraged and it became one of the biggest local stories of the year.
Darian Bashir, now 24, was arrested less than a week later.
He was charged with murder and remains in custody while awaiting trial.
Last June — a full month after the shooting — a tearful Lobo baseball coach Ray Birmingham and athletic director Eddie Nuñez spun a story during a news conference, describing Weller as a model student and person who was gallantly protecting his “first date” when he was gunned down as the couple stood in line to purchase food.
The media ate it up. The community outrage increased.
Our leaders pounded their collective fists and promised to end such random violence in our city.
The measures in the aforementioned news conference were announced just 13 months ago.
Last June, however, Enchantment Sports ran an exclusive investigative series in which multiple eyewitnesses and numerous viewings of a surveillance video directly contradicted UNM’s version of what led to the killing.
Weller, who had earlier been thrown out of a bar and who had been in at least one fistfight, left the taco stand multiple times before returning to confronting Bashir.
The video showed that Weller wasn’t protecting a date or anyone else. In fact, he was with teammates at 2 a.m. the day of a scheduled game.
To this day, the Albuquerque news media, outside interviews radio stations KVIA, KQTM and KKOB conducted with Enchantment Sports last year, have yet to inform the public about key details that actually happened in the early-morning hours of Weller’s killing.
That lack of honest public information took a tremendous toll on businesses in Nob Hill as citizens were petrified over the UNM/media version about such random violence.
The narrative was clear, and the backstory didn’t matter: Albuquerque needed more cops!
While the Enchantment Sports series showed that Weller likely wasn’t just a victim of random violence — something that will almost certainly will eventually come out in court — it didn’t change the fact that Albuquerque is one of America’s most violent cities.
Birmingham, who never answered questions about why he gave his account of Weller’s alleged heroics — calling him “John Wayne” — reiterated just how violent Albuquerque is by giving a story of yet another Lobo baseball player who quit the team after having his truck stolen at gunpoint.
He also gave examples of others on his team who had been robbed, and he talked about a letter he had published by the Albuquerque Journal which stated, “Rewrite this broken system and start putting criminals in jail immediately. Protect the law-abiding citizens of New Mexico ASAP.”
Birmingham said Albuquerque’s crime problem “absolutely” had a negative impact on recruiting for baseball and other UNM sports in recent years. It also has convinced more than one Lobo student-athlete to transfer.
Outrage and fear only increased as story after story in the Albuquerque media pounded home the need to clean up crime.
More policing was a must!
Well, it’s been one year.
One turbulent ever-changing year.
And the hypocrisy is mind-numbing.
There is still outrage. But it’s flip-flopped like, well, like a politician.
Just a few weeks ago, there was looting and rioting in Albuquerque — along with massive peaceful marches — to protest police.
Yes, many say they are protesting to reform police.
But many others — as is the case around the country — chanted throughout our city to defund or even abolish police.
Curious if Birmingham agrees with any of that?
I’m also curious about that large group of politicians and leaders, and if their list of measures would change if they all held a news conference today?
This week, Keller announced the formation of an alternative department to respond to non-violent calls.
The answers to the controversy over policing are complicated. I get that.
But just be careful what you wish for folks.
Wishes, as often said, may come true.
And who knows what you’ll be wishing in another year?
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for more than four decades, and is one of the most decorated sports journalists in state history. Smith has won more than 30 combined awards in print, television and radio and has been honored nationally for investigative reporting. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.