By Austin Fisher
Sitting at a table outside the Roundhouse on the morning of January 18, Hazel Batrezchavez was hand-stitching names into strips of deep red fabric.
Each name was a person who died at the hands of New Mexico police in 2021. All of them will be embroidered and then sewn onto a large banner.
The “sew-in” was part of a demonstration by People’s Budget New Mexico, a coalition of more than 15 local organizations calling on state lawmakers to use federal pandemic relief funding to address the root causes of crime.
Around half of the state’s American Rescue Plan money still needs to be spent after December’s special session. Legislators are supposed to make decisions about the rest of it over the next 30 days.
New México Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is proposing to spend $100 million of the state’s general fund over the next decade to expand police budgets across the state and help pay for 1,000 more police officers.
“Living in a safe and healthy community is the right of every New Mexican, and these are smart proposals that get and keep the worst of the worst off of New México streets,” Lujan Grisham said in a written statement. “I’m looking forward to working with the Legislature to make sure that every one of these bills crosses the finish line.”
Lujan Grisham is also proposing to increase criminal penalties, shift the burden onto defendants to prove they are not dangerous during pretrial detention hearings, and give a 19.5% raise to New México State Police officers.
“I am asking for those things because New Mexicans are asking for them,” she said during her State of the State address on Tuesday.
People’s Budget New México opposes all of these measures and said the state budget should be spent elsewhere.
“Ordinary New Mexicans are still suffering from the pandemic and decades of disinvestment,” said Selinda Guerrero, an abolitionist organizer from Albuquerque. “More funding for the police will not aid the public health and wellness of our communities, nor will it address the root causes of crime.”
Federal recovery money and the state budget should be invested in building safe, healthy communities, not in policing, she said. The proposals will only expand the carceral system in New México, she said.
Guerrero said police presence does not satisfy people’s most pressing needs related to their safety: housing, food, health care, education, clean air and water, job opportunities, and urban camping areas with public restrooms and showers.
“In fact, more police presence in our communities, whose needs are chronically unmet, often creates more harm in the form of bodily injury and death, family separation and physical and mental abuse,” Guerrero said.
Szu-Han Ho, a professor at the University of New México and a member of an art collective called Fronteristxs, said mass incarceration already disproportionately affects people of color. And high rates of incarceration in certain neighborhoods can lead to more crime, the coalition argues in a news release, “because of family stress, neighborhood disintegration and undermining community support systems.”
The Legislative Finance Committee raised a similar point, writing that “larger police forces make more arrests for low-level offenses, which can increase use of force and raise the likelihood of future criminal behavior from arrestees.”
New Mexico consistently ranks among the states with the highest rate of police killings in the country, with the Albuquerque Police Department accounting for roughly half of the deadly shootings here since 2015, according to the Washington Post.
“This has to stop. They don’t need any more money. It’s time to start prioritizing community and funding our community,” Guerrero said.
Work left to do
The coalition is calling on lawmakers and the governor to prioritize meeting people’s material needs versus the tough-on-crime packages that seem to be lifted up as the governor’s priorities, Guerrero said. Housing has become unobtainable in a lot of the cities including Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces, she added, and more rural communities need access to running water, broadband and wood for the winter.
“Those are the kinds of things we should be funding right now,” Guerrero said.
The group is waiting to see which lawmakers file bills, Ho said, and organizers were not only critical of some of the measures being proposed. Guerrero said the coalition is excited about the governor’s voting rights bill, which is a step toward helping to minimize felony disenfranchisement.
“More funding for the police will not aid the public health and wellness of our communities, nor will it address the root causes of crime.”
Selinda Guerrero, Organizer
Ho said the group is also advocating for the abolition of life without parole sentencing for youth, a proposal led by the Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. That bill is not on the governor’s agenda for this session, but Sen. Antoinette Sedillo López filed it on Jan. 18.
The embroidered list of victims of police violence is incomplete for now, Batrezchavez said.
Work on the names will continue at monthly events in Albuquerque called Hook It Up Sundays, Batrezchavez said. It’s a way to talk to community members more about who these people were, and to hold space for them. They also give out free food and exchange needles.
“There needs to be some sort of recognition for these individuals, they can’t get lost in just saying ‘this is a number,’” Batrezchavez said. “Because a lot of these individuals, this violence was enacted on them, and their stories are not known, about what happened, about their families and how they’re suffering. We need to be able to acknowledge the names as they are.”
For More New México News: ELSEMANARIO.US
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