Albuquerque and people’s assemblies

If anything cries out for the building of genuine people’s assemblies — places where workers and the most oppressed can freely testify to the unbearable crimes being committed against them — it’s the police shootings that have been happening in Albuquerque, N.M.

The one that tipped the scales happened on March 16, when a homeless and mentally ill man, James “Abba” Boyd, was gunned down by cops for camping in the Sandia Mountains — illegally, they said. An impoverished person who needed help in a society where there’s a glut of everything, billionaires included, got a rain of bullets instead of a safe and nurturing place to live and heal.

This wasn’t a fluke. Albuquerque police have shot 37 people since 2010, 23 of them fatally and most of them Native or Chicano/a. But Boyd’s killing was the last straw for lots of people. After seeing the video of a vulnerable person being executed in front of their eyes, they poured into the streets on March 30 in what the authorities called a “riot,” but really was a justified rebellion.

So passionate was that mass act of defiance in a city that claims a liberal reputation that the authorities seemed to back off a little. Mayor Richard J. Berry called Boyd’s death a “game changer” and promised to expedite a Justice Department investigation. He talked about better police “training” and more services for the mentally ill.

It’s probably just talk, with those in authority hoping things will quiet down again. But what kind of society is it where people have to take to the streets, in a situation so tense that they could be putting their own lives on the line, just to extract a vague promise from the powers that be?

“The powers that be” can’t be the end of this story. We must think in terms of the powers that COULD be — the power of the people, of those who become political not to get a cushy job or a “legal” pipeline so they can syphon off public funds into their own corporate accounts, but to really change society. There are plenty of such people, organizers and activists who have been fighting the capitalist class and its state power, trying to get justice for so many crimes and abuses.

People’s assemblies have the potential to unite and elevate all these struggles to the point where those who have suffered for so long won’t have to beat their heads against a brick wall at City Hall or the State Capitol or the White House. They can come together and frame their demands, and together find the power to carry them out.