[Pnews] Can’t Spit, Can’t Sleep, Can’t Get Warm: the Everyday Cruelty of Police Harassment in Albuquerque

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Mar 10 10:29:57 EST 2021


https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/03/10/cant-spit-cant-sleep-cant-get-warm-the-everyday-cruelty-of-police-harassment-in-albuquerque/ 
<https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/03/10/cant-spit-cant-sleep-cant-get-warm-the-everyday-cruelty-of-police-harassment-in-albuquerque/> 



  Can’t Spit, Can’t Sleep, Can’t Get Warm: the Everyday Cruelty of
  Police Harassment in Albuquerque

by AbolishAPD Collective 
<https://www.counterpunch.org/author/blshcllc4992/> - March 10, 2021
------------------------------------------------------------------------

On January 25, 2020, shortly after noon, a woman named Nimbus* spat on a 
Central Avenue  sidewalk near the University of New Mexico. You may find 
that disgusting or disrespectful, but Albuquerque police found it criminal.

There is no law against spitting on the sidewalk. Albuquerque Police 
Department (APD) officer Nathan Bjork gave Nimbus a criminal summons for 
“conduct offensive to public [sic]” anyway, citing a 1978 state statute 
in his criminal complaint that had been repealed in 2018 by the New 
Mexico State Legislature. Bjork’s decision to criminalize Nimbus’s 
behavior was callous and petty, and it was also illegal; there is no law 
for Bjork to enforce.

The court record on Nimbus’s case reflects as much. No statute is named, 
and under “charge” it reads: “Misdemeanor Offense Not Identified.” These 
facts did not stop this case from dragging Nimbus through six weeks of 
court filings and warrants, and finally being jailed for two days before 
prosecutors dismissed the charges on March 10.

We’ll repeat that: Nimbus spent two days in a cage because APD picked 
her up on a warrant issued for missing a court date on charges that she 
violated a law that that doesn’t exist.

And this was only the beginning of 2020 for Nimbus. She would be jailed 
eight times before the year was over, all while COVID-19 swept through 
carceral facilities in the United States and thousands of people 
received de facto death sentences due to the lethal neglect wrought by 
overcrowding, filthy conditions, and lack of access to quality healthcare.

It’s likely that Bjork issued Nimbus a criminal summons (rather than 
simply arresting her) in part because of the 2017 McClendon Settlement 
Agreement, the result of a class action lawsuit filed in 1995 against 
the city of Albuquerque that “primarily involv[ed] allegations of poor 
jail conditions, including overcrowding, as well as issues related to 
arrests and arrest procedures [by APD].” As part of the settlement, APD 
was required to rewrite various Standard Operating Procedures. In the 
new SOPs, cops are instructed to issue citations “when appropriate in 
lieu of arrest on non-violent misdemeanor offenses (not to include DWIs) 
when there are no circumstances necessitating an arrest.” The idea was 
to reduce crowding at the county jail by lowering the number of arrests 
made by APD. Of course, law defers to the discretion of police so it’s 
up to the cops to determine which circumstances “require” making an 
arrest. And a new pattern is emerging, one in which Nimbus is caught up. 
Arrests have not been stopped, but merely delayed, for many people 
issued criminal summonses on misdemeanor charges by APD.

Like the Prophet, whose story of surviving grinding police harassment 
and state violence 
<https://www.abolishapd.org/post/the-prophet-of-police> we shared last 
week, Nimbus does not appear to have a permanent residence. In various 
court documents and criminal complaints, she is referred to as 
“transient” and “homeless.” Sometimes her mail is sent to the Hopeworks 
Shelter on 3rd, sometimes to the Good Shepherd Center on Iron, sometimes 
to one of two different residential addresses that appear in the court 
records. And yet, just like for the Prophet, the mail never seems to 
find Nimbus.

Examining the court records, it appears that almost every piece of mail 
sent by the courts to Nimbus regarding her various legal cases in 2020 
was returned. The records are littered with the line, “RETURNED MAIL.” 
It is not clear that even one notice, warrant, or dismissal found its 
way into Nimbus’s hands. This is how APD and the courts skirt the 
McClendon agreement: by giving criminal summonses for misdemeanors to 
people like Nimbus, whom they know will not receive notice of a court 
date. They also know a warrant will be issued when the court date is 
inevitably missed. Then the courts cage those people APD picks up for 
these outstanding warrants. Despite McClendon prohibiting it, APD still 
arrests people for misdemeanors, just on a different timeline than in 
the past. Which means people like Nimbus are still being thrown in cages 
for simply living life on Albuquerque streets.

On April 19, 2020, Nimbus set up a tent at an Albuquerque park. Cops 
quickly found her. In his criminal complaint, APD officer Brandon 
Weatherspoon–who has a history of chasing 
<https://www.abolishapd.org/post/apd-mayor-defy-cdc-advice-aggressively-police-unsheltered-people-during-pandemic> unsheltered 
people from this park–says that “I observed a yellow tent that was set 
up near the playground at the park. There was a female subject who was 
inside of the yellow tent.” Like other unsheltered people, Nimbus 
doesn’t often have the luxury of privacy. With their lives lived in the 
public view, activities that we take for granted–using the restroom, 
sleeping, having sex, using drugs–become pretexts for APD cops to issue 
criminal summonses when enacted by unsheltered folks.

In Albuquerque, camping has been criminalized under section 10-1-1-3 
(A3) of the city charter. “No person in a park shall construct or erect 
any building or structure of whatever kind, whether permanent or 
temporary in character… except by written permission of the Mayor.” On 
this pretext, APD cops along with employees from the city’s Family and 
Community Services department regularly harass, chase off, and 
confiscate or destroy 
<https://www.abolishapd.org/post/policing-the-pandemic-in-albuquerque-how-the-city-criminalizes-people-living-on-the-streets> the 
belongings of people camped at parks and other land throughout Albuquerque.

Weatherspoon cited this law and a familiar pattern played out. The court 
sent Nimbus a notice of charges against her. It was returned on May 11, 
2020. The court issued a bench warrant for failure to appear and mailed 
Nimbus a notice of the warrant on June 30. It was returned. Then on July 
27, APD cops arrested Nimbus for the outstanding warrant and threw her 
in a cage for the crime of setting up a small refuge for herself at a 
public park.

APD and the courts criminalize people’s lives by enforcing these laws 
day after day in absurd and violent ways, obsessively delivering 
penalties for petty crimes like loitering, littering, jaywalking, and 
sleeping in a park (which cops also call criminal trespass). The 
thousands of people like Nimbus who live on Albuquerque streets live 
with the constant threat of police interfering with their survival.

In February 2020, APD threw Nimbus in a cage for ordering food at a 
diner and not having the money to pay for it. In May, APD threw Nimbus 
in a cage for lighting small fires and littering on a sidewalk. On a 
cold day in October, APD threw Nimbus in a cage for seeking shelter in a 
commercial building and lighting a fire.

We couldn’t find Nimbus, so we couldn’t ask her directly about this 
pattern of harassment. But the story told by criminal complaints and 
court records is echoed by other people we’ve spoken with in the past 
weeks, months, and years. One man was crossing the street to use a 
nearby restroom when he was accosted by APD cops for jaywalking. They 
wouldn’t let him leave, so eventually he was forced to defecate on the 
sidewalk. He was hit with a criminal summons for indecent exposure. 
Another man couldn’t sleep and sought shelter in an unlocked commercial 
building to use some WIFI. He was chased off by cops and issued a 
criminal summons. Almost every week, we hear from people living on the 
streets that they cannot find out when their court dates are, that they 
fear being jailed yet again for failure to appear.

Cops constitute the muscle of a system that relies on violence to 
maintain an order in service to privilege and property. They choose 
which laws to enforce and on whom. These choices, which courts refer to 
as “police discretion,” overwhelmingly target poor people, Black and 
Brown people, and unsheltered people. Cops claim their choices establish 
public safety and support community wellness. Nimbus has no permanent 
address, does not get the mail for her court date, gets bench warrants, 
gets picked up by cops and thrown in cages by judges and jailers, goes 
to jail despite not being convicted of a crime. Her life, and the lives 
of thousands of others, are constantly destabilized by APD and the 
courts. Police call all of this “order.”

How many days did you spend in a cage the last time you spat on the 
sidewalk?

/*Nimbus’s name has been changed and some details have been omitted from 
this story to protect her privacy./

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