Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, which ends qualified immunity as a legal defense, into law on Wednesday. Advocates have said the law will bring greater equity to New Mexico as it also enables individuals whose state constitutional rights have been violated to bring a civil suit seeking financial remedy. The new law caps the remedy at $2 million and no case can be brought over an incident that occurred before the start date – July 1, 2021 – of the new law. Recoverability of attorney’s fees is possible but subject to the court’s discretion. The original bill, HB 4, came out of recommendations made in a report written by the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission in late 2020.
Nicole Martin, a sex education developer and co-founder of the grassroots reproductive rights organization Indigenous Women Rising (IWR), called forced hysterectomies reported by a whistleblower in a migrant detention facility in Georgia a crime against humanity. Martin, of Laguna Pueblo and Diné (Navajo Nation), likened the forced hysterectomies as “directly linked to genocide and colonization and white supremacy.” She said the forced hysterectomies make it impossible for migrant people to reproduce and “bring in more generations.”
“Their whole sense of being is stripped away from them. I can’t imagine how the people detained right now, how they’re coping or functioning or making it day by day. My heart really hurts for them. I can’t believe this is the world we’re living in,” Martin told NM Political Report.
This week’s special session will, as expected, include more than just budget matters, the governor’s office announced Wednesday. While the state must address plunging revenues, which would result in an unbalanced budget, something that is not allowed according to the state constitution, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also said that non-budget items would include police reform efforts, election changes and tax relief for small businesses. The special session, which will begin at noon on Thursday, is necessary because of the economic impact of COVID-19 and the restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the disease. Only legislation that is put on the call can be passed during special sessions. Some legislators have said they should only address budget issues during the special session and that other issues can wait until the regular legislative session in January.
Four Democratic state lawmakers plan to introduce legislation during the special session this week that they say would offer greater transparency and more accountability when it comes to police use of force. Amid calls from protesters in New Mexico and nationwide to defund law enforcement agencies and stop insulating officers from possible consequences over excessive and lethal use of force, state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez and others have asked Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to prioritize the bill. The measure would increase oversight of officers’ use of force, including requiring reports to the district attorney, attorney general and Governor’s Office following an incident in which a law enforcement officer’s action causes “great bodily harm” or death to an individual. The proposal also would allow the top prosecutor of a judicial district where an incident has occurred to request selection of a district attorney from another jurisdiction to review the case and decide whether to bring charges against an officer. Investigations into police use of force would be handled by the state Department of Public Safety, according to the legislation, which has not yet been assigned a bill number.
On Thursday, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said racism is a “public health emergency” and that she would make examining government policies with institutionalized racism in mind “the center of my administration.”
She announced the formation of the Council for Racial Justice, which will be comprised of several African American community leaders, and she will appoint a racial justice czar. The council will include state Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, a Democrat from Albuquerque, NM Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs Director Alexandria Taylor and the Reverend Donna Maria Davis of the Grant Chapel AME Church, along with others. Lujan Grisham said during the live press conference that the nation has to “own what slavery did.”
“Until we own that sin…that disgrace, we don’t have the opportunity to move forward,” Lujan Grishan said. The press conference came after recent events that have gripped the nation. Video showed a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on an African American man, George Floyd, for nearly nine minutes, killing him.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and other city officials took to the podium Friday afternoon to discuss the May 25 death of unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis and a Black Lives Matter protest that occurred in response to Floyd’s death Thursday night in Albuquerque.
On Friday, fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of Floyd, who was killed while handcuffed and unarmed by Chauvin in an altercation that allegedly began over an alleged fake $20 bill. Chauvin knelt with his knee on Floyd’s neck for about eight minutes, even after Floyd stopped responding. Three other officers involved were also fired from the Minneapolis Police Department earlier this week.
Keller said the City of Albuquerque “believes that black lives matter.”
“[George Floyd’s] death has left us, in many ways, with rightful anger and grief. It has highlighted a lot of things wrong with America. It’s also a situation where we know it’s not the first time. Just a few weeks ago, we saw the video of Ahmaud Arbery — the same thing, different context, happening time and time again,” Keller said.