This article was produced in partnership with ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network. Sign up for Dispatches to get stories from ProPublica like this one as soon as they are published. And sign up here for New Mexico In Depth stories. Gabriella Trujillo, special to ProPublica
Over the four academic years ending in spring 2020, Gallup-McKinley County Schools reported to New Mexico officials that it had expelled students at least 211 times, far more often than school districts in the rest of the state. Yet on Jan.
In popular mythology, New Mexico is a “tricultural” state–– one where Hispanic, Anglo, and Native American communities live in relative harmony, an exemplar for the rest of the nation. But the persistent myth leaves out other groups with long histories in the state, appearing in state-produced documents as recently as 2019. Then, there were contentious remarks at a very public forum this February that led Black leaders to call for a formal statement from the Legislature denouncing the remarks. At a legislative hearing to confirm Veteran’s Service Secretary-designate Sonya Smith, a Black woman, Sen. Greg Baca, R-Belen, noted that 2.6% of New Mexico’s population is African American. He then asked Smith if she felt “comfortable adequately representing… cultures of white, Native, Hispanics.”
Black community leaders issued a statement characterizing Baca’s words as racist and calling on legislative leaders to issue a formal denouncement.
ByApril Simpson, Susan Ferriss, Taylor Johnston, Pratheek Rebala |
Public Integrity analysis shows 18% live in multigenerational households in the U.S., increasing vulnerability to the virus
Nursing home social worker Sang Nguyen lived in constant fear that he’d bring COVID-19 home to his parents and his 78-year-old grandmother. He knew from his job how deadly the coronavirus could be for older people with pre-existing health conditions. So the family began hunkering down last year at home in Puyallup, Washington, not far from Tacoma. Nguyen’s parents, 46 and 55, both have underlying health issues and suspended operations at their nail salon. Nguyen’s teenage siblings stayed inside to attend high school online.
After a year in which police use of lethal force against Black people awakened large swaths of the American public to a discussion about systemic racism, lawmakers in New Mexico are looking to reform policing and better protect civil liberties.
The Memorial Day killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked mass marches across the country, including in New Mexico, to protest the unequal and dangerous treatment Black people encounter in interactions with police.
New Mexico is no stranger to calls for greater scrutiny of law enforcement.
The U.S. Department of Justice forced the state’s largest law enforcement agency into a consent decree after concluding in 2014 the Albuquerque Police Department exhibited a troubling pattern of excessive force, including one of the highest rates in fatal shootings by its police officers. The killings haven’t been limited to APD, either. Between Floyd’s death this Memorial Day and the end of November, there were 11 fatal police-involved shootings across New Mexico, according to local news reports and a database of deadly police shootings maintained by the Washington Post.
Since 2015, when the Post began compiling data, New Mexico has recorded 115 law-enforcement shootings, New Mexico trails only Alaska for the highest rate of fatal police shootings in that time – 55 per one million residents. Soon after Floyd’s death, the state Legislature passed House Bill 5 that created a temporary New Mexico Civil Rights Commission to investigate and recommend ways to hold public officials to greater account, with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signing the legislation June 26. Nearly four months later, on Oct.
Printed in white block letters, the question stretched across billboards around Albuquerque last summer. And it still haunts the mother of two, Elaine Maestas, who helped pay to put them up.
“What if emergency responders came armed with compassion instead of guns?”
In 2019 when her little sister Elisha Lucero’s mental health was deteriorating, 911 seemed like the only place to turn for help. “Leash” was in counseling to manage her worsening migraines and hallucinations, Maestas said, but she was deeply afraid of being hospitalized or medicated. So as her behavior became more erratic, she resisted her family’s entreaties to seek further treatment, and they felt they had no recourse but to call law enforcement to the South Valley address where she lived.
Fishing was one of Elisha Lucero’s favorite pastimes. In April of 2016 she met up with one of her best high school friends to fish at Tingley Beach, where she caught around seven fish off corn and fireballs.
Hill with her granddaughter. (Courtesy of Nandi Andrea Hill)
When Nandi Andrea Hill got pregnant at 21, she knew she wanted to have a home birth but couldn’t find a midwife, so she turned to her mother who coached her to have a natural birth without medical interventions. They planned to go to the hospital for the delivery itself, but the baby came faster than they expected.
“I ended up birthing her at home unplanned with paramedics that came rushing in my room, eight men. They didn’t catch her, she flew out and she did wonderful. They took me to the hospital, but literally when I was putting her up on my chest—I was in culinary arts—I said I need to be a midwife.
A state senator says she’ll push for laws in the coming years to answer a long-troubling question in New Mexico: does the criminal justice system here disproportionately target non-white people? Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, an Albuquerque Democrat and former law professor, tells New Mexico In Depth she was “stunned” to learn during this year’s legislative session, her first in the Senate, that few agencies collect or share data on the race and ethnicity of people caught up in the system. “I thought, how was I not aware of this?,” she said in an interview this week. “It was really weird.”
Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque
So Sedillo Lopez is working up a memorial she plans to introduce at the 2020 session, which begins in January, directing the New Mexico Sentencing Commission to study how — and whether — the state’s jails and prisons gather demographic information on people who are locked up or on probation. Though she doesn’t yet have a detailed plan for the next step, she aims to use the study to bolster a bill in 2021 that would “ensure that this data is collected and continues to be collected regardless of who’s in charge.”
The Sentencing Commission says it’ll be glad to do the work.
From traffic stops to incarceration rates to drug arrests, New Mexico trails other states and the federal system in collecting key criminal justice data, particularly on race and ethnicity, a New Mexico In Depth analysis has found. And despite a push from state lawmakers this 60-day legislative session to improve the state’s data collection efforts to inform better, “evidence-based” criminal justice policies, searching for potential racial disparities in policing, prisons and other areas doesn’t appear much of a priority. “It’s puzzling,” said Steve Allen, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. “If we’re going to have some sort of data-sharing process in place and data gathering, I would think race has to be central to that. It’s just gonna take a little bit of ingenuity and a little bit of prioritization from people in power.”
There are no state rules or laws that require law enforcement agencies to track the race or ethnicity of people their officers contact, stop in vehicles or arrest, according to the top two officials at the New Mexico Sentencing Commission, the state’s clearinghouse for criminal justice information.