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NM police protest turns violent, ‘Anonymous’ attacks department website

Protesters threw rocks at police and at least one officer was trapped in a police cruiser as protesters tried to break the windows. One officer was injured

By Patrick Lohmann and Nicole Perez
Albuquerque Journal

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. What began as a peaceful protest on a sunny day in Albuquerque turned more and more unruly Sunday, as hundreds of people marched back and forth on Central Avenue until police threw more than two dozen canisters of tear gas and arrested at least half a dozen protesters.

Marchers took over much of Downtown and the university area during a daylong demonstration, where they called for accountability for Albuquerque police and justice for James M. Boyd, a homeless, mentally ill man who was shot and killed by officers March 16 in the Sandia foothills. Protesters also decried past APD officer-involved shootings.

The rally began at noon. After 9 p.m., police used around a dozen canisters of tear gas to disperse protesters near Central and Vassar, several people were seen being arrested, and Mayor Richard Berry said in a late-night news conference that an officer was injured.

“We respected their rights to protest, obviously,” Berry said, “but ... they’ve taken it far beyond a normal protest.”

The march along Central boiled over at several points, with protesters ignoring police commands to disperse and having a standoff with officers in riot gear. The demonstration came after an online “hacktivist” group, known as Anonymous, issued a call to action in response to seeing video of Boyd’s shooting. The group also waged a cyberattack against the APD website, which was inaccessible throughout the day Sunday, and what appeared to be a number of officers’ personal phone numbers were released by a purported hacker.

At one of the most tense moments, demonstrators sat down on Fifth Street near APD headquarters, not complying with officers’ demands to disperse. Police were heard calling the protest an “unlawful assembly” and donned gas masks, riot shields and batons.

Protesters eventually moved on after an hour and marched east on Central Avenue and briefly took over Interstate 25, slowing 75-mph traffic and prompting a police response.

From there, protesters arrived at the university area, where one man climbed a Central Avenue light pole and tried to topple it. After that, protesters marched largely unhindered by police toward Girard and Central, where they jumped on top of an APD substation and sprayed it with graffiti.

Riot police finally arrived and arranged themselves in a line across the busy street. They were joined by officers on horseback, in addition to the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office SWAT Team. Protesters confronted them at first but then were able to circumvent the line and continue west on Central Avenue.

After repeated commands from police to leave, officers used cans of tear gas, with gas reportedly drifting north across Johnson Field into the University of New Mexico dorms. UNM later advised students to use their air conditioners if the gas caused any issues. Students were already on a “shelter in place” advisory because of the protesting and police activity.

Then the protests reconvened Downtown at APD headquarters. After another dose of tear gas, fewer than 100 protesters left the building and were ushered by a police line toward Civic Plaza.

When protesters arrived Downtown, a man driving a paint-ball gun rental truck stopped in front of the APD building and pulled out what he claimed was an AK-47 rifle. The man said that the only way to meet APD’s force was with force, but protesters persuaded him to put the gun away.

By 11:30 p.m., police had begun moving out of Downtown, though a small fight broke out and protesters dragged city barriers into the road near Fourth and Central.

The city, in a statement, said that Berry and Police Chief Gorden Eden were monitoring the situation throughout the day. Berry, in the news conference, did not provide any more details about the injured officer, but said protesters threw rocks at police and that at least one other officer was trapped in a police cruiser as protesters tried to break the windows.

“The professionalism these men and women are showing is extraordinary,” the mayor said.

The protest started at the Alvarado Transport Center and went to APD headquarters at Fourth and Roma before heading to Civic Plaza. There, on the steps at the north end of the plaza, members of various activist groups and family members of those shot by police called for accountability.

“Hey hey! Ho ho! Killer cops have got to go!” the protesters could be heard chanting on a livestream video by protester Thomas Dixon. It was watched by nearly 1,500 people at any given time.

Protesters said they were outraged by the shooting death of Boyd and others in recent years, and one credited Anonymous as inspiring her activism.

“I definitely was encouraged by Anonymous to come out,” said Jennifer Girod, who held a sign saying “APD: Not judge, jury and executioner” on Sunday. “We’re saying something, these killings need to stop.”

Family members lined pictures of those shot and killed by the department on its steps.

Apart from the protests in the streets, APD confirmed that its website was down to what it called a “cyber attack.”

The APD website appeared to have gone back online briefly, according to an online service that checks website statuses, but was down again throughout the day. It was back up as of 11:15 p.m., according to an online service that checks website statuses.

Anonymous, in a video it issued following the shooting, asked its members to “turn their cannons” to APD websites.

Also on Sunday, a Twitter account that purports to be associated with Anonymous tweeted what it called a hacked list of APD officers’ telephone numbers. The APD spokeswoman said she had no way of knowing Sunday afternoon whether the numbers were authentic.

Asked about the release of officers’ personal information, “It’s obviously a concern, not just for those officers but their families,” Berry said.

Copyright 2014 the Albuquerque Journal