Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A City's Soul Dies Along With The Murdered Homeless; Acceptance By Some; Demand For Solutions By Others 

ABQ Journal
Two ABQ homeless men have their faces smashed in with cinder blocks wielded by three sociopathic teenagers. They die horrible deaths and with them dies another part of the city's soul. What's left of it.

This new strain of mindless violence that has emerged--epitomized by the epidemic of child abuse and the parental murder of 9 year old Omaree Varela, these diabolical slayings of the homeless and the out of control police shootings--are the direct result of ABQ and New Mexico's unofficial slogan:

"Look The Other Way."


We'd like to predict this latest abomination which has the city unwillingly vaulted into the worldwide headlines will be the turning point, but it won't. We have family dysfunction so widespread here and so ignored by policy makers that it is likely to get worse--much worse--before it gets better. . .

Affluent ABQ has put a moat around itself. The BMW's can be safely parked behind the gates of Tanoan or in the driveways of High Desert.

The social conditions crisis so in evidence in so much of the city--the SE Heights war zone, miles of Central Avenue, the decaying Downtown and most of all in the beastly crimes that sear the conscience---can be kept at bay only when you reside in a dense cocoon of denial.

But it's getting harder to hide.

A friend tells of being panhandled at the Starbucks in wealthy Corrales. We see the homeless now in middle class neighborhoods like Juan Tabo and Comanche, too, not just the back alleys of downtown. And we see them brutally murdered or run over by drunken drivers as public life here becomes even more drenched in rage and hostility.


It has always been a shoot-em-up town, but not an evil one. A fella would get drunk on Saturday night and shoot someone at the bar. Happened all the time. Then came the shocking 1996 Hollywood Video murders. They were the first wake-up call that the strain of crime here was becoming more virulent. Flash forward 20 years and mix in a Great Recession with a willful neglect by what passes for leadership around here and here you are. . .

The economic and quality of life solution for many has been to vote with their feet. The migration out of the state is witness to that. The small, mainly upper income voting class that cast ballots in the 2013 ABQ mayoral election simply wants "to keep a lid on things." That means keep the crime out of their area and if need be unquestioningly pay off millions in APD shooting lawsuits. As for the underlying causes for what we have become or any serious effort at a remedy, ABQ has two middle names: "apathy" and "denial."


It's going to take more table pounding to force collective action to address what is shaping up to be a dreadful NM future. Reader Stephen Spitz comes with the latest on using a portion of the state's immense Land Grant Permanent Fund to get at the innards of the dysfunction afflicting children here--before they are beaten up by relatives or use cinder blocks as murder weapons:

According to an editorial in the ABQ Journal, Minnesota found that by “putting money into early childhood programs like pre-K, nurse visits and prenatal care, we can produce a return of between 10 percent and 18 percent.”  How? Educational and health outcomes were improved and poverty was reduced. The “problem (according to the editorial) is that New Mexico, unlike Minnesota, isn’t rich in big local companies with the resources needed to duplicate the program.”

That’s true, but New Mexico does have a mammoth funding source that is the envy of the nation: namely the 3rd largest Permanent Fund in the US, worth $13.98 billion as of April 30. In June, $71 million flowed into the Fund from oil and gas fees for an annual contribution rate in excess of $800 million--which  now exceeds all annual distributions. This net-positive contribution rate is expected to continue well into the future. Last year none of the fund was spent on the early childhood programs that the editorial indicates produces returns of 10 to 18%. But surely, as the editorial concludes, it should be: “If the money could be found, [the early childhood programs] certainly would be worth trying here, even on a small scale.” The solution is staring us in the face. 

New Mexico is a poor state. But one of the reasons it remains poor is that we have been unwilling to spend the money we do have to generate substantial societal and economic benefits now and for the future. By investing in early childhood programs, New Mexico stands only to gain. The risk lies not in early childhood programs which all agree are “worth trying here” but in the failure to act.

Unfortunately, the consequence of that "failure to act" were on full display at Central Avenue and 60th street.  That's where three maniacal teenagers left two men to die on bloodied mattresses with chips of cinder block embedded in their faces. And as this city and state again looked the other way. . . 

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2014. Not for reproduction without permission of the author
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