Militant Journalism

Protest exposes Albuquerque’s covered up police killings

Photo: The family of Valente Acosta-Bustillos, murdered by Albuquerque police on March 30, leads march demanding prosecution of officers

Dominic Smith, Orlando Abeyta, Valente Acosta-Bustillos. These are names you have probably never heard of.

They were all brutally killed by Albuquerque police officers. The cases were covered up and then brushed away. None of the officers were ever fired, charged or prosecuted. In each case, local media dropped the story immediately after covering police press conferences where the killers exculpated themselves.

But the nationwide revolt against racism and police brutality has created an opening. All over the country new calls for justice are being raised around older cases of police killings.

Most prominently, in recent days, is the case of young Elijah McClain in Colorado, a case closed by the Adams County district attorney last year, now being reinvestigated by the state’s attorney general thanks to weeks of unrelenting, sustained street protests.

Not far away in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Party for Socialism and Liberation is working in coordination with the families of Dominic Smith, Orlando Abeyta and Valente Acosta-Bustillos to renew calls for justice.

Say their names!

Dominic Smith was a victim of the opioid epidemic. A corporate drug prescription for a broken ankle cascaded into an addiction. In 2010, when an unarmed Smith encountered Albuquerque police while under the influence they shot him in the heart twice for not responding to commands.

Orlando Abeyta, a 28-year-old Native American man, grew up in To’Hajiilee. On Jan. 6, 2020 two undercover members of the Albuquerque Police Department gang unit gunned Orlando down in broad daylight at a bus stop. He was holding a BB gun and talking with friends when officers ambushed him. Police swerved up and jumped out with assault rifles. Four seconds later, without having moved a muscle, Abeyta was shot 10 times.

Not long after that, on March 30, APD killed 52-year-old Valente Acosta-Bustillos, an undocumented construction worker, during a “welfare” check. Valenta was doing yard work when two officers walked onto his property, shot and killed him, later stating that his gardening shovel made them “fear for their lives.” Acosta-Bustillos had been diagnosed previously with a mental health disorder. The cops that killed Valente had personally referred him several times for short-term emergency mental health treatment. They killed him anyway.

On June 25, the family of Valente Acosta-Bustillos courageously led a march of hundreds from APD headquarters to the residential home where Valente was gunned down by the police. Protesters, including the cousin of Dominic Smith, helped Valente’s family rebuild a memorial that had been taken down by the landlord, whose only concern was how the memory of Valente and his senseless killing might lower the amount they could charge the next renter.

The “Albuquerque context”

New Mexico, in which Albuquerque is the largest city, routinely ranks first or second in the country for fatal police shootings. The shootings have a racist character: most of the targets are Native American and Latino. Even with a crisis this severe, the movement has been dormant in recent years.

A 2014 anti-police brutality uprising successfully led to the implementation of a federally monitored reform process. The mass movement receded while the reforms were allegedly being put in place. Six years later, however, it is now possible to see that the “reforms” have not reduced the number of police killings, nor have they brought justice to the victims’ families, past or present.

It gets worse. Since taking office in 2017, Democratic Mayor Tim Keller has been a staunch advocate of growing, not defunding, APD’s budget, something he has doubled down on in recent weeks saying, “We have to understand the Albuquerque context.” Thanks to this liberal law-and-order infusion of resources, APD’s budget shot up 20 percent in the last two years and now sits at a staggering $208 million (32 percent of the city’s general fund budget).

Meanwhile, Albuquerque’s budget allocations for affordable housing, homeless support services/emergency shelter, mental health services, and substance abuse services are 1.3 percent, 4.4 percent, 1.8 percent and 1.5 percent of the APD operating budget, respectively.

All of this has rekindled many peoples’ anger, and for the first time since 2014, it is once again bubbling to the surface.

The children of Valente Acosta-Bustillos, determined to defend the memory of their father, are now part of the march forward. Surrounded by family, they spoke about their father as a peaceful and hardworking man who cared deeply for others. Members of the South Broadway community lined the street as the marchers passed, voicing their total support for firing and prosecuting the APD officers responsible for Valente’s death: officers Joseph Bush and Edgar Sandoval.

All progressive and revolutionary people, working together with the families, should continue this fight!

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