It might be a good time for the homeless, or teenagers, or Latinos, or African-Americans, or…actually, shit, pretty much everybody in Albuquerque to get out of town because about 500 cops from across the nation and beyond are set to descend on New Mexico's largest city to play with their guns.
In one of the more shockingly tone-deaf events in recent memory, the shooting scandal-plagued Albuquerque Police Department and the National Rifle Association are gearing up for the Albuquerque Police Pistol Combat Tournament and National Police Shooting Championship in September.
Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry says that they are thrilled to host the event—but the angry families of the many, many victims of recent police shootings in Albuquerque are calling the event "insulting" both to them and their city.
According to the Albuquerque Journal, armed security guards actually locked the doors to Mayor Berry's City Hall office on Wednesday after a small group of protestors–mostly the families of police shooting victims–attempted to personally deliver a letter condemning the event.
The guards promised to deliver the letter to the mayor, but refused to allow them into his office to meet with him in person.
According to the NRA (PDF), in addition to target and speed shooting tournaments, one of the main event programs, "incorporates competitive based skill and scenario courses of fire to allow you to practice and evaluate your skills using your duty firearms and gear in hypothetical police related encounters and solve the challenges presented according to your own tactics. Just bring your duty guns, gear, ammunition, and a desire to learn and have fun."
Don't have a Patrol Rifle or Patrol Shotgun? We have ones you can use, just bring your own ammunition.
There will also be a number of vendor booths set up, where visiting police officers—when they're not having fun competitively pretending to kill people in "skill and scenario courses of fire"—can learn all about the latest weaponry and tactical gear available to their departments back home.
Any way you look at it, Albuquerque seems a blatantly antagonistic location for a law enforcement shooting competition–especially given that there have been an awful lot of people shot and killed by the Albuquerque Police Department since just 2010 alone—40 shootings, 26 of them fatal.
That rate far outpaces those of even much larger cities like New York City–which has 15 times the population and 35 times as many sworn police officers as Albuquerque, but which recorded just 22 police shootings from 2009-12.
The city's astonishingly high police shooting rate came under even more scrutiny last spring after the shooting death of a mentally ill homeless man by police at his campsite in the hills above the city.
On March 16, James Boyd, who had been attempting to camp out in the hills after the city's homeless shelters had closed—and whose family says had a history of schizophrenia—was gunned down in a brutal assault captured on a police helmet-mounted video camera. He was allegedly armed with a pocket knife at the time, although the video of the incident shows that the officers did not appear to be in any imminent danger when they opened fire.
Boyd died in an Albuquerque hospital the next day.
(Warning: Graphic Video)
Following the Boyd shooting, and a press conference where Albuquerque Police Chief Gordon Eden actually praised the actions of the officers who shot Boyd (comments which Mayor Berry later called "a mistake"), the situation between police and Albuquerque residents rapidly deteriorated to the point where on March 30 peaceful protests turned into actual riots, as police fired tear gas on protestors, who responded in kind by blocking traffic, spray painting city property and allegedly trapping officers (who, without any trace of irony, said they feared for their lives) in their patrol cars.
The FBI is currently investigating the Boyd shooting.
In a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the city in late June, Boyd's family claimed that none of the over 40 officers dispatched to the scene had the slightest clue about what they were doing, or took any sort of control over the situation—and that their lack of training led directly to Boyd's violent death.
(In an curious coincidence, one of the events at the National Police Shooting Championships involves a competition in which police shoot an impaired man armed with a knife. Remember, this is a "fun" competition between armed police officers, sworn to Serve and Protect while upholding the U.S. Constitution, for bragging rights and prizes.)
The Boyd family is seeking damages and court-ordered changes to police policy in terms of how officers deal with the mentally ill, as well as a requirement forcing the city to pay rental subsidies for the homeless.
Finally, in the wake of that incident and many others, the U.S. Department of Justice stepped in earlier this year to force the Albuquerque Police Department to make changes, saying that police had displayed a pattern of violating civil rights through excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which provides protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
In a scathing report (PDF), the Justice Department showed that the overwhelming majority of police shootings in Albuquerque from 2009 to 2012 were unconstitutional, and often happened when police officers used deadly force where there wasn't an imminent threat or death or injury to themselves or others.
The Justice Department report recommended that the city improve policies, police oversight and officer training—moves that the city agreed to make to ward off a possible federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and police department.
But perhaps most galling of all, especially to the families of the victims of the demonstrably trigger-happy Albuquerque Police Department, was the 2012 revelation that the local police union–the Albuquerque Police Officers Association–actually handed out cash payments to officers involved in shootings.
The payments were supposedly intended to be a sort of "Get Out of Town and Cool Off So You Can Process What Happened" fund, but (in another chilling parallel to some of the "fun" events planned during the upcoming police shooting championship) many in the community contend it developed into a very real cash prize–up to $1,000–for Albuquerque Police Officers to go out and shoot people.
The practice, which also goes on in several other cities, was criticized by both Mayor Berry and then-Police Chief Raymond Schultz but strongly defended by police union officials from across the nation–one of whom told the New York Times that he was shocked and offended that anybody would think that giving police officers who shoot people a quick cash payout was anything other than honorable.
"It is completely perplexing to me how anyone can equate this to anything other than the concern and compassion for a police officer who has just been through a traumatic event," said Joe Clure, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association. "It's insulting to me as a police officer that they're trying to paint these guys as villains."
Mike Gomez, whose 22-year-old son Alan Gomez was unarmed when he was shot and killed by Albuquerque police in 2011, called the payments nothing more than a bounty system.
"You're telling police that if you shoot somebody you're going to get paid leave and you're going to get $500," Gomez told the Times. "If the police shoot a person they get this. What does the family get? A funeral bill."
This past June, Mayor Berry again asked the police union to end the practice of giving direct cash handouts to officers involved in shootings, a plea that was rejected outright by union president Stephanie Lopez.
So given that horrifying recent history—and especially at a time when police weapons tactics and policies are under fire across the nation—you might think that a city with such an utterly failed and volatile relationship between its citizenry and the people sworn to Protect and Serve them would not only shy away from holding an event like the National Police Shooting Championship, but would actively apologize for even letting the subject come up in the first place.
And you would be incredibly wrong. In a statement, mayoral spokeswoman Breanna Anderson told the Journal that the NRA-organized event is "welcome" and should generate about $160,000 in revenue for the city.
"We welcome the opportunity to host law enforcement professionals from around the world here in our beautiful city and we thank them for their commitment and service at the local, state and federal levels to keeping our communities and nation safe."
The NRA is just as enthusiastic to be in Albuquerque as city officials are to host them. In 2012, the city and the NRA finalized a deal that keeps the annual event in the city at least through 2017.
"Our relationship with Mayor Berry and the City of Albuquerque has been so successful we have extended our NPSC contract 5 years rather than the standard 2 years," said NRA President David Keene in an October, 2012 statement issued by the city. "The competition attracts over 500 competitors from around the world and we expect that number to continue to grow over the coming years."
On Wednesday, Mike Gomez–whose son was shot and killed by Albuquerque Police Officer Sean Wallace, who was perhaps unsurprisingly scheduled to compete in the upcoming tournament (but who has since dropped out)–told the Journal that the competition goes against the city's publicly-stated goals to reform the department.
"A department saying that they are going to make change and have community policing, they are doing everything against what they are saying," said Gomez.
In addition to shooting the unarmed Gomez, Officer Wallace has also shot two other men during the course of his New Mexico law enforcement career. Officials did not give an explanation as to why Wallace dropped out of the tournament.
Another protestor, Kenneth Ellis–whose son was killed by an Albuquerque cop in 2010 in an shooting a judge later ruled to be unjustified–told KOB-TV that the NRA competition is little more than a contest to see who is the best killer.
"It's very upsetting that we are hosting a police shooting competition when we have the highest police shooting rate in the county," he told KOB, adding "I think there should be a police crisis, intervention and de-escalation competition."
That seems highly unlikely, as at this point–despite the pleas from its own angry and terrified citizenry, a police department with an apparently well-earned national reputation for killing for cash, a national outcry against the over-zealous use of force by police in general and a federal investigation into an incident that (in the non-police world) would likely have been prosecuted as second-degree murder and armed criminal action–it appears that the 2014 National Police Shooting Championship will proceed as scheduled starting on September 13.
So be ready to flee for your lives, Albuquerque, and may God have mercy on you–for the Albuquerque Police Department has proven again and again and again that they will show you none, and next month they're bringing their friends around for some real "fun."
Image via AP