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Finding public safety solutions will require New Mexicans to work together

Peter Goodman is a Las Cruces news columnist, radio commentator, lawyer, and self-proclaimed rabble-rouser, and the author of The Moonlit Path, a novel.
Peter Goodman is a Las Cruces news columnist, radio commentator, lawyer, and self-proclaimed rabble-rouser, and the author of The Moonlit Path, a novel.


Death is real, in LCPD Officer Jonah Hernandez’s body-cam footage.

Surveillance video showed Armando Silva strolling around the property and sitting down. Hernandez approaches, uncertain whether Silva is the owner or the trespasser, then gets attacked too suddenly to draw a gun, and getting stabbed as he rapidly retreats.

Watching the footage hurt. How much more must it hurt to watch when Jonah was your pal and co-worker? His face tight, tone steady, LCPD Chief Jeremy Story explained that if open records laws didn’t require him to release it, he wouldn’t.

The bodicam, moving backward to escape the knife, shows the assailant, the knife striking, blood spattering. Hernandez moans in pain. The assailant doesn’t care. Then Hernandez’s view of the bystander, who’s shot the assailant, struggling to keep Hernandez alive. Through a blood-stained lens, he’s just above us, his hand pressing on the neck wound, shouting alternately “Stay with me, man! I got you!” and “Shit!” maybe even after Hernandez is gone.

Afterward Chief Story mentioned that watching the video had deeply affected people who usually don’t show that sort of thing. Count me among them.

The details help say two things are important: what happened why; and where we go from here. Story passionately, blending controlled grief and anger with logic and understanding. As he said, we can either tear each other apart over the situation, changing nothing, or come together to effect real change. Amen.

What what killed Hernandez was not a mistake by him, or anyone’s personal anger at him: it was a situation in which we have a great many homeless people, most of them harmless, but some who commit crimes. Our greed-based economic system, rampant homelessness, the suddenly easy availability of fentanyl, homelessness, and perhaps our society’s disintegration into warring armed camps . . . killed Hernandez.

He wasn’t killed by City Council denying any police budgetary requests. He was not killed by judges being “soft on crime.” Chief Story mentioned that (as my previous column discusses) local judges must dismiss cases against mentally incompetent defendants. He an individual with 124 municipal court cases dismissed, as well as district court felonies and magistrate court charges. In the past year.

Locally and legislatively, folks are trying to improve laws and practices, striking a balance between equality/fairness (our constitutional amendment on bail) and safety (better outreach, more patrols, and better handling of with repeat, or “prolific,” offenders).

This is not “a homeless problem.” Trucks making night withdrawals from construction yards aren’t driven by homeless folks. Armando Silva killed Hernandez. Another young man broke into a nearby restaurant. At night. Ate and drank. Then penned a note, apologizing, saying he’d been hungry and thirsty and cold. Then used their phone. To call police to come arrest him for his crime. Homeless folks are as varied as everyone else. Most are suffering. Mostly, it’s not their fault, either.

We’re a complex society. We have created the problem. We all need to fix it. “All” doesn’t mean only those who get paid to fix things. And aiming at root causes will work best.

Meanwhile, in Story’s words, “let’s focus emotions on productive goals.” Fix that “incompetent to stand trial” loophole. Make clearer that our reformed bail law doesn’t require repeated re-releases of folks whose past convictions and plethora of new arrests say eloquently that public safety requires holding them before trial.

Let’s honor Jonas Hernandez by working together.

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