Oddly enough, the sweet taste of justice can be found served up in the Southern-style backyard barbeque at Grandma’s House BBQ in northeast Albuquerque. La’Quonte Barry wasn’t expecting to open up a restaurant when he started to organize and protest against police brutality nearly a year ago. Barry, 32, is a former state Income and Support Services employee and one of the Black New Mexico Movement founders, an organization modeled after the Black Lives Matter Movement. In July of last year, Barry attended a protest rally on Civic Plaza as part of that organization.
In the days leading up to the Civic Plaza even, he, alongside other protestors, found themselves confronted numerous times by armed members of the Cowboys 4 Trump organization and the New Mexico Civil Guard at other protests. He says he was not aware the city had passed a law in June of the same year banning firearms from public parks in response to the shooting that took place when the Oñate Statue at Tiguex Park was removed.
When Governor Lujan Grisham mandated masks in a state public health order, the new firearms law had its first test. Hundreds of protestors stormed Civic Plaza at the erroneously named “I Can’t Breath” protest on July 19. Several attendees who were armed that day were given verbal warnings by APD and allowed to place their weapons back in the vehicles. They were not arrested. Barry and BNMM protestor Francisco Gray didn’t have time to put their firearms in the car before they were handcuffed and detained by APD. No verbal warning was given. Both Barry and Gray were never officially booked and were detained for 46 minutes in the police transportation holding area and then released with a citation. “It was clear to us at that point that the discrimination was real because just two days prior, no one was detained in the same spot, the same situation,” said Barry.
The ACLU took on Barry and Gray’s case, and it ended in dismissal and an out-of-court settlement between each of the men and city attorneys. According to the ACLU, Barry was awarded $40,000. The ACLU argued the police could not give a citation for a felony offense since the men did not know they couldn’t carry a firearm, and that they were targeted because they were Black.
This wouldn’t be the last time Barry had a run-in with the N.M. Civil Guard. After another rally on Aug. 2, Barry was walking with other protestors Downtown when members of the Civil Guard pointed guns at them from inside the now-closed Filling Philly’s restaurant. Barry told the media at the time that he and several other people saw men pointing their rifles at them. Video footage of the incident shows people walking past the restaurant, but no firearms were pointed at those who were inside.
Barry decided to do something positive with the money he received from the settlement. He says he wanted to use the situation to facilitate change. Barry used the money to open up Grandmas’ BBQ, a food truck serving up southern staples several days a week. The decision to open the food truck came after making good on a promise to his grandmother. He has also been working with APD and interim-chief Howard Medina as a community activist helping with new civic engagement activities and community policing policies. He feels this is a positive way to help bring about change.
When asked about how he’s working with community leaders as an activist to create a more equitable change for the Black community he felt that changing the system with partnership rather than getting rid of it is a better solution. “That’s the big thing in ABQ; people yell, ‘Abolish the police!’ I tell everyone, ‘abolish’ means to ‘get rid of.’ So when you get rid of them, what’s your plan then? If you’re for that, how can we reform it? The government works for everyone else. How can we help change the system to work for us?” he said.
“I want the community to be able to call the police. We are in a time where people just don’t trust the police; and that’s what we are trying to change. I want to create a time when a young African American, a minority child, can call the police, can grow up still wanting to be a police officer. Right now, we can’t even get people to work for APD. We are trying to be that change, and change is happening in the world. Sometimes it is slow, but change can happen,” he says.
Barry says he feels grateful for the opportunity to do something positive with a bad situation, and hopes it serves as an example of positive change within a divided community. “We need to unite—all organizations, everyone that is on the side of the movement, that’s on the side of right. We have to unite with each other first. The ones out here fighting for change, we are too spread out. We are too divided, we need to get back together and bring that unity and love back together to put our city in a great position.”
Grandma’s House BBQ, 2606 Conchas St NE, (505) 500-4317, $, Open 6am to 6pm Wed. and Sun. 2pm to 6pm