A Life Cut Tragically Short and a Community Divided

By Jeremy Reynalds, Ph.D. Founder and CEO Joy Junction Inc.

Uncivil discourse. We’re an angry bunch, aren’t we? 

It’s now been blared all over the nation that hundreds of demonstrators marched in downtown Albuquerque on a recent Sunday to protest deadly shootings by the police, including that of a schizophrenic homeless man who was killed after a standoff with officers.

Images of police in riot gear and clouds of tear gas have floated their way nationally through TV screens, online and newspaper pictures to consumers nationwide and internationally.

One recent article in an Indianapolis newspaper was headlined, “In Albuquerque, police are doing the shooting.”

james-boydimagesThe Albuquerque Police Department (APD) has now also been fully investigated and officially excoriated by the U.S. Dept of Justice, and outside consultants as well as a deputy chief of police have been brought in to make things better.

The DOJ concluded that APD “has engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force, including deadly force” (http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2014/images/04/10/140410-doj-apd-findings-letter.pdf)

Both pro and anti APD demonstrations have attracted major amounts of news coverage since the deadly shooting of James Boyd, 38. It was Boyd’s killing that seemed to push an already frustrated community over the edge. However, according to some local media accounts, the numbers of those attending demonstrations are on the decrease. Our attention span seems sadly short these days.

As the Founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico’s largest emergency homeless shelter, I felt that I had some responsibility to speak up (although I had already given comments to the DOJ at their request some time ago), but felt I couldn’t add much at this stage to the polarizing public discourse.

However, I did feel comfortable stating on Facebook when asked my thoughts, “The publicly released video appears to indicate a problematic shooting, but I hesitate to place myself in the position of the officers who were there at the scene.

“However, my infrequent experiences over the years with APD (Joy Junction is in Bernalillo County) and other law enforcement agencies indicate that much more mental health training and deescalation is warranted.

“In addition, the entire mental health system needs a serious overhaul. We have become so concerned about violating the civil rights of the mental ill by failing to institutionalize those in serious need of such a move that some of them may be dead because of it.”

That was about as far as I was going to go until I saw this comment on someone’s Facebook status update.

It read, “The homeless man has been in and out of jail and court many times for battery and assault and sliced and persons face with a knife. He had two knifes in his hand when he was shot. All this information is public knowledge, and maybe the three hours the cops were in the hills before the video and trying to get this man down was (justification) for their reaction to shooting him.”

Wanting to be measured, thoughtful and civil in my response, I wrote, “The whole issue is tragic, but its root goes far deeper than just this incident. Police need more training in dealing with the mentally ill, and our entire mental health system needs reform and resuscitation. Over the almost 30 years I have been in Albuquerque at Joy Junction I have dealt with countless good officers, but have also witnessed a few times of deliberate escalation and incitement. “

I then referred to Congressman Tim Murphy, who has sponsored H.R. 3717 “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act” (http://murphy.house.gov/helpingfamiliesinmentalhealthcrisisact)

The person who wrote the initial statement responded in a tone that was not really measured, thoughtful or civil, “Sure, Jeremy, this all makes sense … We give cops motor homes with couches in them. Invite the criminals in for a little talk. Give them warm milk and cookies. After a few hours, then and only then decide if they should shoot them. I’m in!”

I hope this individual is never afflicted with mental health issues, as he apparently thinks they’re all criminals!

The most shocking response came from someone who identified herself as a former employee of a well known and respected homeless agency here in Albuquerque. She wrote, “ …I know that people who are off their meds are dangerous. It is our duty to try and get them back. I track but if they refuse then they are subject to what happens and that is …they pose a threat and you know that damn well …. Face that mentally ill people need to be treated medically and if they chose not to, they risk what their condition yield.”

I hope that this woman also never suffers from a debilitating mental health issue such as schizophrenia. Her comment was shocking.

However, other than the public comments I posted above, I wasn’t planning to say anything else for a few weeks in the hopes that we all may have a better understanding of what went down and what was in the minds of the officers who shot Boyd. That was until this comment was posted Saturday evening on Joy Junction’s Facebook wall. “Why haven’t you guys said anything about #JamesBoyd?”


However, one thing could be helpful. What do the homeless think about the tragic shooting? One of our staff asked a few of our guests. They had a mixture of reactions. and here’s what they said.

Angelica felt that APD used excessive force, but said that they only had a split second to make a decision.

Brent also thought the police used excessive force, and Chad believed they should have used non lethal methods.

John thought that while various city leaders didn’t want the “COPS” show to be filmed in Albuquerque (even though the discussion has been over the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Dept and not APD), for fear of bad publicity, this incident went national on both print and TV media, and got many hits on YouTube as well. This was far worse than anything that may have been generated by COPS.

I liked what one of our staff said, “ … A man is dead and police actions are being questioned. At this point in time we aren’t able to change what happened, but we can learn from it and try to avoid this situation again by educating APD with the right tools for the right job. So let’s pray for (that).”

A promotional announcement for KOB TV News read by veteran anchor Tom Joles summarized how I felt.

Joles read, “When our community doesn’t feel like it’s ours any more, when there’s anger and frustration, we need to remember what we value about our lives here and look for answers calmly with dignity and respect …”

To which I say a big “Amen.” Training, education and civil discourse (as opposed to rudeness, sarcasm, wild demonstrations and teargas) would be far more effective in ensuring that this sort of tragedy never gets repeated. Who’s in?

Image Courtesy of KOAT