How Boyd’s murder went from ‘justified’ to second-degree murder
For the first time in Albuquerque’s history, police officers will stand trial for killing someone.
On Aug. 8, a judge ruled that officers Dominique Perez and Keith Sandy will face second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault and aggravated battery charges for the 2014 murder of homeless man James Boyd.
On March 16, 2014, a total of 19 officers were deployed to the foothills of the Sandia Mountains after a neighbor called the police non-emergency line to report someone “illegally camping.” APD officers dispatched to the site were informed that Boyd was a “reported paranoid schizophrenic.” APD responded by deploying its most lethal tactical units to the scene. Perez was part of the SWAT team. Sandy was part of the ROP team (Repeat Offender Program), a unit that until 2012 used a noose as its official logo and has since been disbanded after pressure from the Department of Justice over unconstitutional policing.
Boyd was in the process of surrendering when officers Perez and Sandy opened fire on him. The murder was captured by their helmet cams.
The decision to try Perez and Sandy for murder is the result of the outrage of the community and the pressure built by the people against the political establishment.
Five months before Michael Brown was murdered and Ferguson exploded into rebellion last August, ushering in the most significant national movement against racism that people have seen in some time, a video of Boyd’s killing by heavily armed police went viral, sparking huge demonstrations, and produced—as in Ferguson—scenes of peaceful protesters shrouded in tear gas as they were attacked by violent police for demanding basic justice.
Police killings are not rare in Albuquerque. In 2014, New Mexico had the highest per-capita police involved death rate. Albuquerque’s District Attorney reviewed 20 police shootings in the last five years alone and didn’t bring a single charge against an officer, including in cases that the City eventually settled for millions of dollars.
So what made the difference this time?
In the initial hours following Boyd’s gruesome murder the newly appointed Police Chief Gordon Eden famously declared the shooting “justified,” only to have the Mayor scrambling to recant that statement days later when thousands poured into the streets in protest. Months of determined activity followed.
The arrival of a mass movement in the streets of Albuquerque permanently altered the course of events in the Boyd case in particular, and transformed the political landscape in general.
It is the reason why the murder of Boyd went from being “justified” by Albuquerque’s top cop Eden, to where it stands today, with two APD officers headed to trial for murder, for the first time in history.
The movement must continue to exert pressure to make sure that officers Perez and Sandy are ultimately convicted—the next step is to show this demand for justice at their upcoming arraignment, and then to continue to work so that this struggle can uproot the entire system of exploitation, racism and violence that the police stand guard over.