For many marginalized people in the United States, police brutality can be a fact of life. Parents have learned, after generations of marginalization, to teach children to immediately show their hands so it is clear the kids are not armed. Other parents may teach their children to run away from police conflict because they fear any interactions with law enforcement will be violent. Children in these families can grow up with a different perspective than children whose families are not marginalized by police. In some cases, children witness police brutality and develop their own ideas about safety. For these kids, a police presence can signal danger, instead of protection.

New Mexico’s history of marginalization

When there is a history of distrust in a community, the community’s relationship with law enforcement may be strained, at best. At worst, a history of police violence in a community creates a chasm between the community and the police officers sworn to protect it. Over time, the chasm grows bigger until it is a gorge. 

New Mexico has more killings by police per-capita than any other state, as found in a recent five-year study. Some of the contributing factors are a lack of standardized policies and procedures for law enforcement across the state, unchecked personal bias, and militarized policing practices. According to a Department of Justice Investigation in 2014, the Albuquerque police force “engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment”. The investigation noted the department had “structural and systemic deficiencies-including insufficient oversight, inadequate training, and ineffective policies.”

Children Are Suffering

New Mexico’s policing attitude extends to police officers in schools. In the past ten years, many schools across the nation have added a “resource” police officer who is meant to protect students, teachers, and staff from school shootings. When city and state police officers use rougher policies for marginalized groups, it normalizes this type of policing and paves the way for rougher policing in schools. This approach was exemplified by a police officer in a Farmington school whose own lapel camera recorded him using excessive force on an 11-year-old girl in the sixth grade. He wrestled with her (to bind arms behind her back) and pushed her to the ground, as she cried and begged him to stop. Her crime was standing on a school bus, picking at the tape on a sign on a door, and taking too many cartons of milk at lunch. School administrators on the scene told the officer he was using excessive force, but he said it was justified.

Know Your Rights

While New Mexico works to improve its policing policies and practices, marginalized people continue to have negative interactions with them. A lawyer whose focus is police brutality can inform you about your options if you have suffered from police brutality.