Life, Death and Struggle on New Mexico’s Mean Streets

Albuquerque’s Wyoming Boulevard bustles on the edge of what some people call the War Zone and others name the International District.  Both names really fit, but perhaps in ways not completely envisioned by the architects of popular lingo. 

Here, the urban geography is imprinted with the social shrapnel of foreign and domestic wars, global migration and the cycles of capitalism. Gang conflicts, domestic violence, substance abuse, and prostitution have long rattled the zone, where many families nonetheless live, love, work and attempt to get ahead. 

A rainbow of the human race inhabits this section of the city’s Southeast Heights-refugees from Southeast Asian wars, Native Americans from the reservations of Manifest Destiny, Mexicans from the collapsing campo and imploding cities of the NAFTA zone, struggling retirees from the USA of yesteryear. 

Mobile homes house many residents of the low-income neighborhood, some of whom might seek spiritual solace at fundamentalist Christian churches or a Vietnamese Buddhist temple. A tall blonde transvestite in high heels struts up and down Wyoming and Central Avenue like the Prince- or Princess- of the Street. 

Located on the east side of the Duke City, the streets offer snug glimpses of the Sandia Mountains. Decades ago refugees from the Dust Bowl climate disaster poured in from the other side of the mountains on their epic trek along old Route 66 (Central Avenue) to the golden dreams of California. 

More recently, it’s been famished black bears streaming out of the drought-drenched Sandias and onto Albuquerque’s streets, where like some of their two-legged neighbors, they rustle through trash cans in a bid to survive.

This is the world where Mary Hawkes was shot and killed early on the morning of April 21, 2014.

According to the bits and pieces of information released by the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) to the local media this past week, the 19-year-old woman was a suspect in a truck theft. 
Hawkes allegedly ran from a local trailer park around 6 am in the morning, turned around during the police pursuit and pointed a .32 caliber pistol at officer Jeremy Dear, who responded to the threat by shooting the young woman dead.

But Hawkes’ friends had a hard time swallowing the police department’s account.

Early on the morning of April 22, a small group gathered at the scene of the shooting near the intersection of Wyoming and Zuni.  Visibly angry and emotionally devastated, they erected a small shrine and scrawled messages on the wall of a trailer park: “RIP Mary,” “Crime Seen” and others. 

“I know for a fact she didn’t have a gun,” insisted friend Jarrich Martinez, who described Mary Hawkes as a caring, non-violent person with a love of the outdoors and animals.

“I just feel very pissed off, how the cops treat us citizens,” the young man continued.  “We’re not aliens. We’re people and what is happening is not funny, not cool…cops don’t understand it. They’re on the other end. They’re just picking up paychecks.”

Identifying herself as Mary Hawkes’ former girlfriend, Luchrisa “Thumper” Price walked up and began crying. “She was the sweetest person,” Price blurted out, adding how her dead friend helped the homeless and shared food.

Carolina Acuna-Olvera had many words for Mary Hawkes.  Defining her relationship to Hawkes like that of a godmother, Acuna-Olvera told FNS that she first met Hawkes when the girl was incarcerated at the Bernalillo County Juvenile Detention Center, where the older woman was working. 

Later sheltering Hawkes, Acuna-Olvera said the young woman had grappled with a hated foster system, bouts of homelessness, emotional crisis, employment problems, and troubles with the law.  Still, Hawkes managed to complete a GED in a Youth Development Incorporated program, the former mentor said. 

The teen found community on the streets of Albuquerque, Acuna-Olvera said. “How do you make family?  You make family on the streets. It’s family. It’s just as valid,” she contended.

Mary Hawkes was far from alone in her situation, Acuna –Olvera added.  

“There are a lot of children on the streets of Albuquerque,” the products of dysfunctional foster care systems, meager transitional programs and rejecting families of queer young people, she said. 
“They need jobs. They need to be hired. They need to be believed in. They are not throwaway people. Some of the most intelligent kids I met were the kids in the juvenile detention center. We’re already spending billions of dollars going to war around the world, but can’t feed kids.”

The local media reported that Hawkes was the adopted daughter of former Belen police officer and Valencia County Magistrate Judge Danny Hawkes. 

After pouring out tearful reminiscences, Hawke’s friends and supporters staged a short march to the corner of Wyoming and Central, where they hoisted a banner with the photos of men fatally shot by APD and chanted slogans that are now familiar ones in the Duke City after weeks of turmoil set in motion from last month’s shooting death of homeless camper James Boyd by APD officers: “Jail Killer Cops! “No Justice, No Peace!” “We Want Justice!’  

Dinah Vargas of the October 22 Coalition explained the protest’s objective: 

“We want to bring our communities together and let them know our struggles are very different but our hell is the same and we need to find solidarity…”

The killing of Mary Hawkes came a little more than two weeks after the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a long-awaited report that found APD had employed excessive force in numerous incidents, and less than five weeks after four other officer-involved shootings in the city- two of them by APD and two by U.S. marshals. The full circumstances of all the shootings- three of which have been fatal- are still unclear.
 
A week after Mary Hawke’s violent death, basic questions are still unanswered. The media spotlight fell on officer Dear, who was hired by the department in 2007.  The Albuquerque Journal reported that Dear was questioned back in 2011 about his knowledge of another officer-involved shooting that resulted in the killing of Alan Gomez, whose death was one of the killings investigated by the DOJ. 

According to the newspaper, Dear told two different stories on separate occasions about the killing, with the second testimony temporarily disappearing in an event drawing the condemnation of a judge overseeing a wrongful death lawsuit. 

Last week, new APD Chief Gorden Eden, who was verbally reprimanded by Mayor Richard Berry last month for making a rush to judgment in declaring James Boyd’s shooting justifiable, committed yet another public relations faux paus when he staged a press conference that left reporters dumbfounded.

Eden could not give answers to many reporters’ questions, saying for example, that he did not even know if Hawkes’ alleged gun was even loaded. No video was recoverable from officer Dear’s lapel camera, which was supposed to be turned on according to APD rules, but footage from other officers from the scene was being examined, Eden revealed.

Later, the news media reported that Dear wasn’t questioned about the Mary Hawkes shooting until 48 hours after the fact.

Left floating in the air were answers to a battery of questions. Where did Mary Hawkes’ alleged gun come from?  Was it purchased or stolen? Who was the officer who began investigating the stolen truck? What happened during the three hour-lapse in the middle of the night between the time the mystery officer reportedly got on Mary Hawkes’ trail and the time she was shot? 

Eden’s press conference tested the patience of the usually reserved Albuquerque media.  A cartoonist for the University of New Mexico Daily Lobo student newspaper could not contain the bubbling ridicule.    

Published in the paper’s April 25 edition, a cartoon depicted Eden outfitted with a dunce cap and answering questions with a pat “I don’t know.” The caption posed a question:  “Is Police Chief Gorden Eden really this dumb, or is this another APD cover-up?”

Besides the DOJ, other government agencies have nudged up against the political cauldron, including reportedly the FBI, which could be investigating some of the officer-involved shootings, and the Office of the New Mexico Attorney General.

In a phone interview with FNS after Mary Hawkes was shot, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King said his staff still had not had time to “digest” the case, but regarded it as part of the bigger picture the AG’s office was viewing in relation to APD. King re-confirmed that the AG’s office was investigating the fatal APD shootings of James Boyd on March 16 and Alfred Redwine on March 25.

Whether APD officers will be prosecuted depends on violations of state law that may or may not be uncovered by the AG’s investigations, King said. Asked why the state agency was investigating possible crimes in what is normally the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s jurisdiction, King insisted that the involvement of his office was not an attempt to “usurp” the county prosecutor’s functions, but necessitated by the circumstances.

“I think the New Mexico public needs to be confident that there is an impartial investigation,” King said.

The use of deadly force by APD was an issue that had been on the AG’S radar screen for some time, King added.

“I think we’re all concerned about the number of shootings considering the size of the police department,” he said, cautioning that different factors could be behind various shootings.

The week of April 28, the DOJ will hold three community forums in Albuquerque to gather input on changes that will be demanded of the Albuquerque police department. 

Many community activists say they won’t be content with bureaucratic tinkerings or mere mandates for better training that are negotiated from above between the DOJ and the city’s political leaders.

Addressing an April 25 forum sponsored by the Southwest Organizing Project at the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice, New Mexico House Majority Whip  Antonio “Moe” Maestas endorsed demands for both APD leadership changes and fundamental changes in the police department’s relationship with the community.

The APD brass “need to go,” Maestas insisted, urging the recruitment of replacements from outside the state “who aren’t beholden to anyone and don’t know a soul.”

Police shootings and protests have jolted Albuquerque like no other issue since the late 1960s or early 1970, prompting a profound questioning of the system of governance. In restaurants, cafes, bars and laundromats, conversations buzz about the police, violence and allegedly corrupt politicians.

The roles of the mayor, the city council, the district attorney, judges, and other officials are the stuff of intensifying public debate. Protest and democracy can be contagious, and a new student group, OurUNM, staged a march at the University of New Mexico last week to demand a greater voice in university governance, administrative transparency and accountability, affordable education, and equitable ethnic representation in faculty, staff and the graduate student body.  

A similar movement is reportedly stirring at Northern New Mexico Community College in Espanola.

Accompanying a picture on its Facebook page of a mass demonstration in Luxembourg against education cuts, the Albuquerque group proclaims:  “Our UNM is part of worldwide organizing of students with other communities like workers and immigrants.”

For Nora Tachias Anaya, the issues cut deep. A member of the October 22 Coalition, Tachias Anaya has joined the APD protests carrying a large picture of her nephew, military veteran George Levi Tachias, who was shot to death by APD officers back in 1988. 

Present for Mary Hawkes’s vigil the evening of the same day she was killed, Tachias  Anaya said she spoke to the distraught young man who showed up wielding what at first appeared to be guns, claiming he was Mary Hawkes’ fiancé and acting like he was in the throes of an emotional breakdown.

Tachias Anaya said the man, later identified as Mario Romero, was “inebriated” and pleading for a way to get off drugs.

The sympathetic listener said she tried to calm Romero before he suddenly departed and led police on a vehicle chase across the city that terminated with the 26-year-old booked into the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center on different felony counts. Only three days before the incident, Romero had been released from the county jail, according to the facility’s records. 

Tachias Anaya then suffered a personal tragedy. Her grandson, 26-year-old Patrick Chavez, was shot to death April 24 near Los Lunas south of Albuquerque.  According to the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office, two men driving a silver vehicle were spotted at the scene of the homicide prior to the shooting. 

Chavez’s body remains in the morgue while the family attempts to raise money for a burial, the grieving grandmother said. 

Tachias Anaya said Patrick Chavez suffered from PTSD, which he first acquired as a young child by watching his step-dad drink himself to death. Chavez’s condition worsened when, as still a young child, he discovered his “favorite auntie” hacked to death in a War Zone apartment, she said.

Tachias Anaya has seen young relatives shot and killed, three older ones suffer from dementia and her son locked up.  She’s raised three children as a single mother by working in restaurants and scrubbing floors, nearly lost a home to foreclosure and watched as the fabric of her beloved city crumbles.

Like a growing number of New Mexicans these days, Tachias Anaya has had enough of the status quo. She defined her involvement in the APD protests as a liberating experience that allowed her to connect the dots of oppression.

“What I’m seeing is a dirt that is piling up under the carpet that is horrendous,” she said. “My ancestors brought us this far, and they worked blood, sweat and tears to get here today and I am willing to do the same.” Summing up her new outlook, Tachias Anaya repeated a saying of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata: “Its better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”

A week after Mary Hawkes was killed, her shrine survived a lashing of bitter spring winds. Melted candles, a Superman doll and toy animals sat on the sidewalk alongside the mobile home park at Wyoming and Zuni.  People stopped by to take in the scene.

Surrounded by an expanding mural of messages such as “One Angel Gone,” “A Flower Picked Blooming” and “Make Alb Safer,” a picture of Hawkes with a dog was plastered on the trailer community’s wall. 

And like James Boyd before her, Mary Hawkes now has a song composed in her memory. Posted on YouTube, the tune by Lil Threat Loca is named “Tree of Blood (RIP Mary.)”
 
Life goes on in the rough edges of the city. Some souls wander the streets panhandling, exuding glazed looks from their faces.  Others frequent the 24-hour McDonald’s drive-in on Wyoming and Central, dine at a Teriyaki Chicken joint, search for bargains at Family Dollar, or sample Azteca Chinese Express, an eatery that sells both Chinese fast food and tacos al pastor, the Mexican street food staple. 

Not far down Wyoming from the place where Mary Hawkes died, the boulevard ends at the guarded entry of Sandia National Laboratories and Kirtland Air Force Base, built up during Cold War One and now leaking toxic jet fuel into the aquifer beneath the city. 

As dusk descended on this water-starved land the Saturday evening prior to the one week anniversary of Mary Hawke’s killing, a huge rainbow born from a teasing rainfall arched over the War Zone/International District and the corner where police bullets claimed the life of a young woman in the stormy spring of 2014.

 

(Photo images: Mural by Ingrid Truemper; No Vacancy sign by jalbertgagnier; Central Ave by Jard Tarbell)




This piece was written by:

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Frontera NorteSur

Frontera NorteSur (FNS) is the online news service of the Center for Latin American and Border Studies at New Mexico State University. Since the early 1990s, FNS has reported on the borderlands, Mexico and beyond. In addition to publishing FNS, the Center for Latin American and Border Studies sponsors lectures, hosts conferences and promotes graduate and undergraduate courses. FNS Editor Kent Paterson has covered the U.S. Southwest, Mexico and Latin America for more than 30 years as a print and radio journalist.

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