Militant Journalism

‘I’m sorry, I’m scared:’ Killing of student enrages Albuquerque, N.M.

Die-in at K-Mart in protest of Jonathan Sorenson’s killing by loss prevention staff. Liberation photo: Katie Bernhardt

Jonathan Sorensen, a 25-year-old University of New Mexico student, died at the K-Mart location at Carlisle and Indian School Road after he was held down by three loss prevention employees who suspected him of shoplifting.

Chantel Marie Trujillo, eyewitness to the killing,  reported that two of the loss prevention employees sat on him as he laid face-down, handcuffed and screaming for help, while another one held his legs. They screamed at him and threatened him with bodily harm if he continued to resist, treating the situation as though they were police officers.

Trujillo said that she could clearly see that Sorensen was unable to breathe, and the LP employees restrained him for about 20 minutes until they finally got off him and realized he was dead.

Before Sorensen died, he managed to say “I’m sorry” and “I’m scared.”

Albuquerque Police Department and Emergency Medical Services arrived shortly after, and Trujillo attempted to record the situation on her cell phone, asking employees if they knew he wasn’t breathing. However, LP employees and managers blocked Trujillo’s view of Sorensen’s body, demanding that she stop recording and leave the store.

Meanwhile, in the background, employees can be seen gathering shopping carts around the body, trying to hide it from customer view. One even yelled at another to grab something to clean up the mess (Sorensen had soiled himself during the struggle).

After a law-suit filed against K-Mart in 2011, the company adopted a “hands-off” policy, whereby LP employees are not permitted to touch the body, clothing or possessions of any alleged shoplifter. If they are unable to obtain the stolen merchandise from the shoplifter through persuasion or threat, they are to cease the apprehension and get police involved. They are not allowed by any means to physically restrain, handcuff or lay any shoplifter face-down.

K-Mart has not released a video of the incident, nor does it plan to fire any employees or press any charges at this time. It hasn’t been officially released whether or not Sorensen had actually shoplifted anything at all. Regardless, the death penalty is not the punishment for shoplifting–a ‘crime’ of survival which is a misdemeanor.

Sorensen’s death has many members of the community outraged, including family and friends. A vigil was held for Sorensen in the K-Mart parking lot on the evening of May 13.

On May 19, Fr. Frank Quintana of the Blessed Oscar Romero Catholic Community organized a “die-in” by which several community members laid down in the aisle where Sorensen died and repeatedly yelled “I’m sorry, I’m scared” as a way of protesting the injustice committed against Sorensen and the lack of response from K-Mart to the incident.

“Outrageous… corporate profit above life… K-Mart has made no humanitarian response whatsoever… I believe we need to stand against corporate greed and in favor of human life,” said Fr. Frank Quintana at the action.

The action marks the second public display of outrage over the murder of Sorenson. The people of Albuquerque have committed to seek justice for Sorenson in the city that has the highest per capita rate of police violence in the country. This permeates the culture of pro-corporate, anti-people commercial locales like K-Mart, encouraging even loss prevention staff to act on the behalf of corporations and the state’s repressive forces.

“…they’re gonna do what they can to keep the PR in their benefit… We’ve gotten so used to valuing property over people. It’s part of our culture,” said Gene Candelaria, a local Albuquerque activist.

“…this alleged shoplifter [who] hadn’t even passed the point of sale before loss prevention was on top of him and suffocated him… this store doesn’t care about human life,” commented Kathy Greene.

The demand for justice echoes in Albuquerque’s vast mountains and valleys as seen in the words of resident Ernie Sturdevant:: “How can people in a public place smother another human being to death, and not be charged with some type of crime?”

The people are committed to demand justice for Jonathan Sorenson.

This tragedy is a clear example of how laws and law enforcement serve to protect the property of the rich rather than the common welfare of the people. Jonathan Sorensen died suffocating and soiling himself on the cold K-Mart tile floor only under suspicion by K-Mart LP staff of having taken merchandise.

Encouraged by the culture of the local murderous police, these LP staff used deadly excessive force. No human being’s life should ever be equated with merchandise, and Sorensen’s death was purely the result of the corporate greed promoted by the likes of K-MART that value profit over the life of a young man.

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