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Mayor continues to resist citizen police oversight committee

Peter Goodman


Mayor Ken Miyagashima gave his “state of the city” speech without mentioning the crisis in police accountability.

Ken took a slow, stately victory lap, recalling old times and accomplishments. He reminded us that his election followed the city council’s questionable approval of annexation of six square miles of land with 30,000 projected residences on it. This “unfettered expansion,” and fears of its impact on citizens, led to a focus on “Smart Growth,” a principle he said was ridiculed at the time. We have become a more sustainable and humane city, while staying financially sound. Ken’s finishing his fourth term.

He said repeatedly that our city is strong.

He did not mention that our city has had way more than its share of questionable police shootings.

I say “questionable” because I know enough about what police face to avoid jumping to conclusions; but on some, the City has spoken. We paid the family of Amelia Baca, shot nearly a year ago, $2,750,000 to settle only their state case, while the federal case continues.

For the pleasure of making Antonio Valenzuela dead, the city paid $6,500,000 changed some policies, and terminated Officer Christopher Smelser’s employment.

Jonathan Strickland survived being shot under circumstances that may or may not have justified the police conduct. Noted civil rights attorney John Burris thinks enough of the Strickland case that he’s representing Strickland against the city. But the city has substantive legal defenses. This case might go to trial.

Sources say the fatal shooting of Presley Eze will cost us a bundle. (I have no opinion: while stealing beer isn’t a capital offense, resisting arrest with your fists limits police options. You don’t get to bully a clerk and punch a cop, then just drive on to California.)

By its actions, the City necessarily admits the seriousness of the problem. The sums the city has paid out are not “nuisance” settlements paid to save on attorney fees. But the city government so far has resisted even seriously considering a citizens police oversight committee, or some similar means of improving police accountability.

Mayor Ken deserves credit for some significant past accomplishments, but should also be held responsible for resisting serious efforts at police accountability.

Appropriately, Ken opened the speech with a moment of silence for migrants who died in a fire in a camp in Juarez the previous day.

He offered no moment of silence for Amelia Baca. (I would not suggest a moment of silence for Valenzuela or Strickland; but neither did Valenzuela deserve to be dead.)

Ken can banish blemishes from his speech; but he will be remembered as much for the present failure (or refusal) as for past successes.

One accomplishment Ken mentioned was setting the minimum wage. And he deserves credit. But he voted for a watered-down version, at the 11th hour. NM CAFé initiated a petition for a referendum. Enough citizens signed. Legally, council’s options were to enact the proposed ordinance as written or hold the referendum. Instead, seeking compromise, councilors watered it down. Ken, in a rather moving moment, explained that he’d opposed it until he helped his son with a homework assignment to create a workable budget for a family of four on a set income. Realizing he couldn’t do it, without adding a second job, opened Ken’s eyes.

That Ken rationally examined the evidence, with an open mind, then decided. Where is he now, when we really need him?

Peter Goodman's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of KRWG Public Media or NMSU.