International District organizers say SWAT raids have deep historical roots

‘Slavery still exists. These practices have not ended; they have only evolved’

By: - July 15, 2022 3:57 pm

An anti-police violence demonstrator holds up a sign in remembrance of 15 year old Brett Rosenau while marching down Central in southeast Albuquerque on Thursday, July 14, 2022. (Photo by Shelby Wyatt / Source NM)

ALBUQUERQUE — For the people of the International District, raids by heavily armed and armored police are nothing new. And abolitionist organizers see today’s police and prisons as an extension of the systems of slavery and colonialism that helped establish the United States.

Every week, federal police roll out of their armory to do “warrant sweeps,” said Selinda Guerrero, an organizer with Millions for Prisoners New Mexico. They “attack people, stalk  people in our community, and they follow them around in undercover cars that they stole from our community members, and they target them,” she said.

One such raid on Wednesday July 7 led to a home destroyed in a fire; inside the house was 15-year-old Brett Rosenau. Preliminary reports show Rosenau died from smoke inhalation and Albuquerque police acknowledged the SWAT team may have caused the fire by firing munitions into the home.

Police were going after a Black man Qiaunt Kelley, who allegedly violated his parole in March. On Thursday night, about an hour after the protest ended, police charged Kelley with murder and armed robbery of photographer Leonard Fresquez.

What happened at the house — “the murder of that African boy, the destruction of that African family’s home” — happens all the time in the International District, said Onyesonwu Chatoyer, an organizer with the All African People’s Revolutionary Party.

“APD carries on like they’re in a Bad Boys movie,” Chatoyer said. “They revel in causing destruction and terror in that neighborhood, and most of the time, no one knows. It’s not even on the news.”

There are so many of these raids that since early 2020, hundreds of cases where the Albuquerque Police Department rolled out SWAT or used physical force haven’t yet been reviewed, according to a May report by the court monitor assigned to oversee the department as part of a federal consent decree.

Target of SWAT raid charged with murder

The killing of Rosenau has sparked widespread outrage and national media attention, which Chatoyer said only happened because of organizing on the ground.

“The only reason why Brett’s name is known around the nation is because the people here — the cop watchers, the folks that do mutual aid, the folks that mobilized — made sure that it couldn’t just disappear,” she said.

They were speaking at a rally at the corner of Central and Wyoming in Albuquerque’s International District to grieve for Rosenau and to call for defunding the Albuquerque Police Department.

“We’re taking the street tonight because we’re taking back this neighborhood for the community,” Guerrero said. She said they will keep showing up, copwatching, organizing, doing mutual aid and building solidarity with unsheltered people.

As some organizers gave speeches, others handed out abolitionist political education zines produced by the fronteristxs collective. Groups also represented at the rally included The Red Nation, the Burque Autonomous Brown Berets, and the SouthWest Solidarity Network.

Guerrero said the whole reason the SWAT callout happened “is because Qiaunt was called state property.”

“A warrant was issued by the courts so that cops could blow up a house to collect their property,” Guerrero said.

Indeed, the search warrant for the house states: “In the state of New Mexico, county of Bernalillo there is now being concealed certain property, namely: Qiaunt Kelley …”

Police obtained the search warrant primarily in order to serve the parole warrant for Kelley, which could explain why Kelley is listed as the “property” to be seized.

“They came to collect their property,” Guerrero said. “Slavery still exists. These practices have not ended; they have only evolved, and that’s what this is about.”

An anti-police violence demonstrator holds up a sign as they march towards the intersection of Central and Wyoming in southeast Albuquerque on Thursday, July 14, 2022. (Photo by Shelby Wyatt / Source NM)

After speeches, protesters started marching on Central. Almost immediately, Albuquerque Police Department vehicles got in front of and behind the march. 

Organizers handed out food and water, and spoke with a couple of people who disagreed with the march.

Throughout the march, police sat in their vehicles blocking traffic on side streets off Central, and were called fascist pigs by marchers. The march turned around at the intersection of Central and Pennsylvania, and returned to the corner of Central and Wyoming before everyone went home.

Cesar Gonzales, with the Bernalillo County La Raza Unida, said what happened to Rosenau represents a lot of the struggles of many people of color who grew up in similar neighborhoods and “who become ignored, and don’t get listened to.”

“That really hits you hard in your heart, to know that a mother ain’t gonna be able to see her son no more,” Gonzales said. “And he should be here with us. He should be in the streets playing safe. That’s the world that we want to hopefully build for each other.”

Gonzales encouraged attendees to either join an organization or somehow get involved because police and everyone in power expect the community to drop the issue.

Remember what we’re doing this for: remember that young man and their family, to support them in any way we can, and other people like them in that struggle.

– Cesar Gonzales, Bernalillo County La Raza Unida

Courtney Montoya, with the New Mexico chapter of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, said the only thing she has been able to think about since the SWAT raid and “the burning of a Black child by the police” is the Ku Klux Klan.

“How they burn homes, and they burn churches, and they burn crosses in front of families’ homes, and the structure of racism in our prisons, and in our police forces, is something that is unparalleled anywhere else in the world,” Montoya said.

Once people are captured by police and put in prison, Montoya said, they are subjected to abhorrent labor conditions and paid pennies on the dollar, lack of air conditioning, bad food, and punishment for organizing on the inside.

“It really goes back to the exception clause of the 13th amendment,” Montoya said. “It never got rid of slavery, per se, it excepts slavery for punishment for a crime. So in this moment, folks are being used as a source of labor. So this has to do with deep-rooted racism, colonialism, you can’t escape it, it’s still entrenched.”

It’s so entrenched, she said, that children like Rosenau cannot grow up safely.

“We’re gonna continue our work, because we are a mighty force to be reckoned with,” Guerrero said. “Feds out of our neighborhood. We want them out.”

A member of the Burque Autonomous Brown Berets leads a call and response via megaphone while marching down Central at an anti-police violence demonstration in southeast Albuquerque on Thursday, July 14, 2022. (Photo by Shelby Wyatt / Source NM)

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.