What Can Artists Do About Out-of-Control Cops? My creative response to the Albuquerque police problem

One approach to out-of-control cops: Flier for I <3 Cops show at Cellar Door Gallery, by Eva Avenue

For breakfast, a really good tasting-smelling. For music lessons, a beautiful song. For everything else, there’s a great injustice happening in the streets and in our homes every day, found floating in the roots of our police forces and jail-happy justice system.

I’ve talked with reasonable, thoughtful men who’ve said in spite of the threat of eternal jailing, and possibly the death sentence—if it arose by some instinct to defend some principle, such as the rape of a female relative; or if somehow incensed to some heat-of-the-moment, blinding rage—there could be nothing to stop them from killing someone. I’m always so shocked to hear this, cause the laws are in place to deter us from acting on certain instincts. But then again I’m not pumped up on testosterone all day.

I’m not the APD.

Right now, the people of Albuquerque are standing up against its out-of-line police force.

This reminds me of Albuquerque in November 2011. I curated a group painting show called I ♥ Cops, an understated response to the mounting concern over APD’s abuses of power, and similar abuses by out-of-control cops around the nation.

I love people, but I don’t love the people cops become as they are so influenced by the pressures, expectations and culture of their job. I called it I ♥ Cops because I wanted cops to come. The title also went against the general Us vs. Them mentality, which creates nothing but problems. And I thought if I called the show I ♥ Cops, and invited police officers, maybe at least ONE would show up for opening night. It was idealistic on my part, and the memory of one very real interaction stays in my mind.

By reform, I don’t mean “cut off their balls,” I mean “dose them with a little humanity.”

I called a prominent member of Albuquerque’s art and break-dancing scene to be in the show, and he quickly became furious at the title of my show. He wanted no part in it even though I told him the title was a ruse. Didn’t matter.

“I HATE COPS!” he snarled. “I KILL COPS!

In no way do I think he’d actually killed a cop, but the pain in his voice shot through the phone and I felt like I’d made a horrible, insensitive mistake. Maybe I was making light of what, for some people, is a daily battle and a great source of anxiety—living in a community hassled, not helped, by police. People in certain communities reliant on drug sales to get by, where they keep guns to defend themselves (since they’re not relying on help from police) don’t ever call the police, because having them there will cause more trouble than good.

What kind of training to these cops get?

Why such a big divide between the needs of the community and the behavior of the cops? How did this get so out of control? What kind of country do we want to be? They don’t act the way their job titles are advertised. Whenever I make smalltalk with a cop, it’s an uncomfortable and alienating situation; they talk to me like they’re not even there, not even listening or anything.

Last New Year’s Eve, I partied through midnight with my super-friend Abby. She sewed bikinis while I researched cop culture and cop brutality statistics in America, and read sections of a new book on the militarization of America. It was a New Year’s Eve Cop Research & Bikini Party. I made some images for posters I could use to help raise the issue of training reform for American cops. By reform, I don’t mean “cut off their balls,” I mean “dose them with a little humanity.” Like, find out what it is about their jobs that creates a monster. How can we restructure the police force, knowing what we know about community psychology today?

Another approach to out-of-control cops: Buddha Buddha Burgler by Eva Avenue Another approach to out-of-control cops: Buddha Cop by Eva Avenue

Being just one person busy with many things, I am not yet sure how to best approach a creative campaign to reform police training in an effective way, without creating bad associations in people’s minds; without further souring the vibe. I want to get rid of the Us vs. Them dynamic and create sensitivity training for cops. But don’t call it “sensitivity training.” It will make the insensitive group defensive from the beginning.

It’s natural to reform your police force based on up-to-date realizations and needs.

That’s called community development.

Cops can’t show there’s a weakness in their training. They put on this façade. So instead of apologizing for shooting this totally innocent man (“illegal camping;” homelessness is not an offense warranting death), they get all SWAT and throw fog bombs and drive tanks while people are marching through the streets with this simple message of, “Hey, can you stop fucking shooting everybody? Life is precious, thanks.”

I ♥ Cops poster and “Buddha Cop” painting by Eva Avenue. Photo of Eva as Buddha Burglar by Willy Miller.

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  1. The telepathic opera on April 17, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    Stay woke.

  2. Eva Avenue on April 18, 2014 at 8:05 am

    Yeah, stay woke.

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