A federal sting last year resulted in the arrest of an unusually high number of African-Americans in Albuquerque, and mostly vulnerable, low-level offenders—not the bosses of big drug and gun rings.
Jeff Proctor with New Mexico In Depth broke the story in May and reported that the Albuquerque Police Department pointed federal agents to a region of minority neighborhoods in Southeast Albuquerque. And they ended up looking for criminals in a barbershop, a soul food restaurant and a park in a mostly black neighborhood, among other places.
Patrick Barrett says the news raised a lot of questions. He’s the second vice president of the local branch of the NAACP and co-founder of the Sankofa Men’s Leadership Exchange. They’re talking to Albuquerque mayoral candidates about the sting and biased policing.
BARRETT: When I first started hearing about it, it was a slap in our face, because we’ve been doing so much work—Sankofa Men’s Leadership Exchange—with the current administration, along with APD. And so I thought it was a real slap in the face. And I know that the operation wasn’t spearheaded by the Albuquerque Police Department, but still, it seems like they would have had some leeway about where to send these special agents on this special task force.
KUNM: So, like we’re saying, this was a federal sting by a federal agency, but it did coordinate with the Albuquerque Police Department. And APD pointed the feds toward the International District. APD didn’t use any stats to justify that. What’s your reaction to that?
BARRETT: I think that’s really really problematic, right? And I think the article was kind of mentioning that they’re doing selective enforcement, right? When I think of the term "selective enforcement," I think of "biased-based policing."
But I think one of the most important questions that we have to ask as a community is: Who are these so-called political elites that called in the ATF to carry out this operation?
KUNM: Does this further erode trust with APD? And what does this mean for African-Americans in our community who might be experiencing a crime?
BARRETT: I don’t want to put all the blame on APD, but I think they played a huge part in this. I think that we’ve been trying to build that trust. So does it erode it a little bit? Yes.
Do we trust the police? Or are we willing to call the police? At this point in time, I think that a lot of the problems that we have, we resort to solving them ourselves, right? And I don’t think it’s an invalid way, but I think as a collective, we’re really starting to rethink our approaches about how we interact with the police department because we see instances of where black people have called the police, and it turned into deadly encounters.
KUNM: There’s a long history in the U.S. of racial profiling and targeting. Does this feel like more of the same? Or is it different?
BARRETT: I think it’s the same, right? Cause if you look historically, when we look at slave catchers and just the whole evolution of policing, we know it started off as, you know, people trying to protect their property, right? And we were their property, and so now again we’re seeing, it’s evolving. But it’s a little bit more sophisticated now. So I don’t think it’s new under the sun, but I think it’s just different techniques that they’re using now.
KUNM: A lot of folks who were picked up by the ATF were also dealing with homelessness or substance abuse issues, which plague this whole state. Do you have any thoughts on that? On who it was that ended up getting busted by the feds?
BARRETT: We’re seeing, powerless and hopeless. And those two coupled together, you’re going to have a lot of substance abuse, right? And so again, if you’re really trying to target these so-called "kingpins," you guys did a really really really terrible job of doing it, right?
KUNM: Do you think reaction to this news would be bigger in another city?
BARRETT: I think it would have, but I think one thing that I like to see black leadership doing, what we’re starting to do, is really evolve. A lot of times, in a black community, we’re really really reactionary, and we’re not proactive. And so I believe in really gathering the facts, being objective before going out, doing something strategic.
I’m not from the old school Civil Rights era where we just protest protest. I think it has to have some meaning behind protest, right? When we think about resistance movement — it steps to this resistance. And so I just don’t believe in hopping up, going and doing a protest without gathering all the information.
We reached out to the Albuquerque Police Department for an interview - their spokesperson in an email refused to comment on the sting, but said APD quote “in no way targets any demographics in our community other than criminals.”