Racial Justice Advisory Group Hoping for Input in Legislature

Police use of force and the use of restraints and seclusion in public school were the hot topics at the October meeting of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Racial Justice.

Who and Why?

In June Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said she was going to create the advisory council after the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Floyd, a Black male, was killed when a white officer pinned him to the ground by taking a knee on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes. The officer was investigating a nonviolent suspected offense. Gov. Lujan Grisham said she formed the group to advise her administration and to monitor what actions are being taken by the state’s various institutions regarding systemic racism. She said this is to make sure there is fair and equitable treatment and opportunity for all New Mexicans. “In New Mexico our multicultural heritage is both an opportunity to move forward and a time to reflect on where we’ve come from as a means of shaping an equitable future for all,” Gov. Lujan Grisham has said.

The 24-member central committee is chaired by Alexandria Taylor, from the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs. Members from across the state are Taylor, Stephen Archuleta, Charles Becknell Jr., Dawn G. Begay, Johana Bencomo, Bishop David Cooper, Joseph Cotton, Rev. Donna Marie Davis, Rabbi Robert Lennick, Jennifer Lim, Senator Linda Lopez, Sebastian Margaret, Darshan Patel, Alexis Maria Rael, Jaclyn Roessel, Arsenio Romero, Allen Sanchez, Corrine Sanchez, Terrance Smith, Micele Ali Surodjawan, Austin Weahkee, Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, Janene Yazzie and Kimberly York. In addition there are 16 participants in subcommittees such as health, public safety and law enforcement, along with an education one too. 

Use Of Force Update

At the Oct. 21 meeting of the advisory council, American Civil Liberties Union representatives Paige Fernandez, from the national office, and Barron Jones, a senior policy analyst at the local ACLU-NM, gave an informative presentation on police killings, which reached a national high in 2018 of 1,143. Black people are killed at a disproportionate rate of three times more than white people and twice that of Hispanic people. Another group they said were killed at a higher rate are those experiencing behavioral or mental health crises. This, they said, prompts the need for more trained social workers within departments. 

Jones and Fernandez both asked the advisory council to endorse a statewide future lethal force statute that would set standards for lethal use, requiring de-escalation techniques to be enacted, banning no-knock warrants that allow police to enter homes unannounced, and abolishing qualified immunity that shields officers from personal liability. It is thought that these changes would make police deadly encounters less frequent.

Coincidentally, a couple days after this meeting, the Albuquerque Police Department released a report that shows use of force and how of force incidents increased between 2016 and 2019. For instance, in 2019, there were 605 reported uses of force in which officers employed Tasers, empty-hand techniques, bean bags and other less-than-lethal means. Also in 2019, there were 163 shows of force reported. Shows of force are when officers simply point a gun or a less lethal weapon at someone. The Southeast Area Command, where a large majority of residents are people of color, has the highest call load and the highest uses of force. APD is required to do this report as part of its agreement with the Department of Justice to monitor its use of force.

Kids In Solitary and Chains

Matt Baca, chief counsel for New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, urged the support of the council for a future statewide bill restricting the use of physical restraints and seclusion tactics with youth, in public school settings in particular. The proposed bill would also tighten up the reporting requirements to the State Department of Education so the adults in charge can’t lie so easily. Baca said a similar bill was introduced last session but died in committee. He said these practices are used more often on non-white and special needs youth and contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. Baca asked for the council to support this piece of legislation. [ ]

For more information on the advisory council log on to: governor.state.nm.us/governors-advisory-council-for-racial-justice/