Hello Albuquerque, Land of Myth and Misrepresentation

Hello ABQ-Pyragraph

About two years ago, my brother was shot to death in his home in Albuquerque. He had been in and out of jail his whole life for drug-related crimes. I met my brother only twice: once when I was a child, and a second time when I was 23. I was visiting Albuquerque and he asked me for change outside Mannies, a local diner. It wasn’t how he died, the uncertain circumstances, the unmarked police car parked outside of my house for three days, or the utter lack of information provided by APD that got under my skin; it was the effect it had on my family, on my father. The reality of my brother’s violent death surprised me, despite our estrangement.

To be directly affected by the violence being generalized in the media and on networking platforms is surreal to say the least. The experience of my brother’s death is a fitting paradigm to Albuquerque’s relationship with violence; it’s as dissociated as it is personal. I don’t blame the city, blame the people, blame the police, or blame the drugs. The Albuquerque I know isn’t characterized by violence, but is a crossroads of endless cultural and social complexity that has forged a community less segregated and more integrated.

Regional myths remain: Prague has romance, Albuquerque has violence.

As a writer currently living here and as someone directly involved in the creative scene, I am constantly astounded by the diversity of talent that exists in Albuquerque. Our creative community is teeming with inspiration and support of artists willing to lend a hand to their fellow struggling creators in an attempt to put Albuquerque on the map. A convergence of artists with a chip on their shoulders, creating something magnificent in the wake of a constant struggle to get a little bit of positive recognition.

I sometimes kid around when I encounter people visiting Albuquerque for the first time. I say, “Welcome to the badlands.” The irony snidely rolls off my tongue in an attempt to feed the myth that exists in their minds, because I know it’s there, embedded first by Louis L’Amour’s dime novels, then John Ford’s John Wayne, and most recently Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad.” The hyperbolic myth of the West and frontier violence figures prominently in visitors’ minds and imaginations. And who can blame them? We have been popularly depicted as such, and even pander to that myth in order to drive tourism.

I concur, to an extent, with the views expressed in articles like Justin St. Germain’s op-ed in The New York Times bemoaning the violence that sometimes feels innate to this state. Since the fatal shooting of an unarmed homeless man by Albuquerque’s police, our city is under even more scrutiny, with federal investigations and a seemingly endless stream of news reports calling out the dire inadequacy of our law enforcement. But as events in Ferguson, New York and elsewhere show, police brutality is not a problem confined to “the land of violence.” It is an issue prevalent across all cities, minorities, socio-economic classes and citizens of the US—some more so than others, but mostly in states lacking money to put into social programs.

In minority-majority cities, like Albuquerque and Ferguson, reported violent crime is going to be higher, because these populations react more dramatically to social control. More patrol cars and officers looking to fulfill their daily quota are naturally going to increase the crime rate, a statistic purely reliant on arrests, and create dissension between these populations and law enforcement. There is a problem here that is endemic to the systems put forth to enforce law in the US.

There is a blood-red neon sign pointed at Albuquerque itself, as if this place is bred in brutality, its inhabitants a product of disorder. If there were a nationwide word-association game being played, our city would be labeled with “violence” first, “homelessness” second. Although recently published articles by The New Yorker and Rolling Stone make some compelling points, both of these journalists have their noses pressed against the window looking in from the outside.

I am attempting to articulate what drives the negative savage portrayal of our fair city in the national eye in instances such as this. This is a good example of when the lines are blurred between fiction and reality. Police brutality is a reality; our crime rate being almost double the national average is reality—a reality greyed by the lack of understanding of the interaction between social control, structure, disadvantage and actual crime. The more resources a state has to allocate towards social programs, the lower violent crime rates will be. The fact that a state with half our population and fewer resources for social programs, Alaska, ranks higher in crime, speaks to this.

Perpetuation in order to gain attention is not the answer, nor is ignorance, nor is pointing fingers. We move past this by working for our community at the most basic level, individually making our surroundings much more habitable for the whole.

Hello ABQ

I prefer V.B. Price’s definition of Albuquerque in A City at the End of the World. Price’s description of our developmental intricacies and national identity reads true and authentic to me:

Instead of actualizing its individuality, and making the most of its cultural complexity, arid limitation, and vast natural beauty, Albuquerque’s built environment has slipped ever more closely into becoming indistinguishable from the anonymous edges of any one of a hundred other western American car towns. But I have to say, too, I don’t think that was the city’s deep intent. Albuquerque’s urban landscape has not only languished in a mire of unfulfilled promise, but that unsettling disappointment has also been punctuated by rare, but heartening, surprises.

When friends move to other cities, or when I visit a place like Seattle and see the economy, beauty and life spilling out onto the streets, I get a bit jealous. They’re there. We’re struggling to find an identity and still suffering from growing pains. I wish the amazing qualities of this lonely, immature city of the Southwest were more apparent and celebrated. At least New Orleans has jazz and the French quarter to veil its extremely high crime rate and repeated bouts with police brutality. The exposed nature of Albuquerque makes people uncomfortable and makes it easier to poke with a stick.

What we do have is an amorphous yet undeniable magnetism bringing creatives here to this last parcel of a sort of frontier. We have a deep well of artists. A collection of truly talented individuals that I have looked elsewhere to find, but can’t. Artists with grit and fight, working in every aspect of their craft. An uncanny enchantment thick with originality as it often is with dust.

Yet, regional myths remain: Prague has romance, Albuquerque has violence, though it is more strongly perpetuated in our case. Because in the end, our ears tilt open toward violence, and why not from a place whose identity is entrenched in it? What I see is a city cast off to the side, perennially negatively represented—yet our inhabitants rise above the identity outlined to them, creating their own image in an Albuquerque they know can be.

I have actually existed in the real violence of this city and seen its repercussions, yet I make the conscious decision to live here because she is astounding; glorious in her rot and grace.

Photos by Josh Stuyvesant.

About Jeremy Kinter

Jeremy Kinter is a writer, filmmaker, and co-director of Humbird, an online arts and culture magazine. He turned to writing after his dance career was cut short by an unfortunate bull chute mishap.


  1. Dru on February 4, 2015 at 10:38 pm

    I’m sorry about your brother, that sucks.

  2. Bob on February 5, 2015 at 11:02 am

    It’s funny that you mention Seattle. Their police dept. has also had a DOJ investigation with results similar to APD. That was back in 2011 and still today, videos of excessive use of force by SPD appear online at least weekly if not daily.
    Excerpt from DOJ Report: “Use of Force – We find that SPD engages in a pattern or practice of using unnecessary or excessive force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 14141. Deficiencies in SPD’s training, policies, and oversight with regard to the use of force contribute to the constitutional violations. Officers lack adequate training or policies on when and how to report force and when and how to use many impact weapons (such as batons and flashlights). We also find that, starting from the top, SPD supervisors often fail to meet their responsibility to provide oversight of the use of force by individual officers. Command staff does not always provide supervisors with clear direction or expectations of how to supervise the use of force.”

  3. Derick on February 5, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    Obviously dude’s never been to Detroit… seriously, the ABQ is a cake walk.

  4. benito on February 6, 2015 at 10:24 am

    I think the grass is always greener on the other side for many… but in so many other places, the social ills of a particular place are hidden, relegated to a certain area of town and the vaporizing middle-class does not have to rub elbows with the unmentionables. In ABQ, as with many places in New Mexico, the history of exploitation and poverty cannot be hidden or cast aside, try as leaders might; it’s in the fabric. I think the real thought leaders in NM should be weary of the quick fix that the political class is in constant search for. In order to define our future, we must take a good hard look at ABQ and New Mexico’s past. We have third-world conditions within minutes of the city. We as a community are dealing with historical trauma… that doesn’t go away with roundabouts, trendy brew pubs, the film industry or billion dollar packages to Tesla. This trauma has also produced an art hub, a cultural mix, and a raw edge that is unparalleled. We need to embrace ABQ for what it is… a complex, gritty city working its way out of a violent past (Natives built homes out of uranium tailings produced for the weapons that the upper class in this community designed, as one example). The people that will define and change ABQ are those that want to be here… and work to grasp why it is the way it is from a historical perspective and translate that into a unique richness. It’s already there… and there’s two types of people that move to ABQ, those that love it and those that hate… those that “get it” and those that never will. Let’s invite more of those that get it and help those enamored with Austin, or Seattle or Charlotte out the door.

    • Elene on March 15, 2015 at 12:18 pm

      Agreeing with Benito. I’m here for the long haul and glad of it.

      And so sorry about your brother, Jeremy.

  5. Clink on February 6, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    This is a great and important reminder to me of the amazing diversity of peoples, talents, and history in Albuquerque. I often say this to people myself, but just as often, I am guilty of becoming frustrated and I forget. I will now work on correcting that. But the reasons I forget are real. For me, it’s not the violence, so much as what I see as an established culture of substance abuse, drama, and dishonesty. The levels in which I encounter and experience these things are as diverse as the people here. Yes these three things exist everywhere, but I’ve never had to live with them to the degree I’ve had to live with them here. Umm….not even remotely. New Mexico is the third state that I’ve lived in, so I find it difficult to see it as a freakish coincidence. Hmmm so am I both agreeing and disagreeing? The complexities continue…

    • CaptainHowdyABQ on March 20, 2015 at 12:03 pm

      hehehe…dude, spark some more….

  6. Jmoney on February 6, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    I just need to comment on something and I don’t know exactly if you where putting this to ABQ.

    “More patrol cars and officers looking to fulfill their daily quota are naturally going to increase the crime rate, a statistic purely reliant on arrests, and create dissension between these populations and law enforcement.”

    Due to the Mayors budget cuts and his policy since he took office APD is down 300-500 officers. With the negative view of police, Officers are quitting and retiring at an uncontrollable level. I am not defending APD, But will, painting a picture that ABQ is ramping up as a police state because of it’s viewed violence would be false. The reasoning would be violence is up because our police force is half of what it was a few years ago. Look at other cities where police have had their budgets cut, or in the case of Detroit that has an almost nonexistent police force.

    The supreme court of NM has issued new rules for prosecuting cases making it almost nearly impossible for the state to prosecute criminals, this is just starting as of this week. Violent criminals will not be in jail but back on the streets. Albuquerque Is about to become as violent as you feel it is perceived.

    Being from a city where crime and murders where out of control NM is seen by us as pretty mild. I have not meet or talked to any from any other place in the country that views NM as violent. Only one person from Boston brought up the foothills shooting and want to know what that was about.

    So I guess people due see us as the wild west still, but violence won’t be worse because this community is one of the most integrated I have seen, it’s unity will help it get past that.

    • Craig Acorn on February 9, 2015 at 7:29 am

      I don’t know where “JMoney” gets the statistics about APD numbers going down like that, but I’m not aware of it and I’m a criminal defense lawyer, so I just might know…Nor will the new Supreme Court rules likely have the effect cited. Those rules were designed to ease the incredible backlog in a district court and jail clogged with drug and related property crime cases. Yes – some cases will be dismissed – appropriately under our constitution – but that will have little or nothing to do with a rise in violence. People committing those offenses are rarely violent. Violence is far more the product of other societal factors unrelated to getting a fair trial as the Supreme Court rule is designed to facilitate.

      • drp on February 9, 2015 at 11:54 am

        I’d also like to know the source of the numbers cited by JMoney.

  7. Sylvia Fuentes on February 7, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    Rose colored glasses.

  8. Nick on February 18, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    The homeless man that was shot by APD was armed with weapons. We will let the justice system determine if APD was in the wrong. But, you have a mighty weapon with the Internet and not correctly stating facts is alarming when you are talking about the city.

  9. CaptainHowdyABQ on March 20, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    I was raised here in NM; from ages 5-6 in Shiprock, from ages 6-19 in Albuquerque & from ages 19-21 in Alcalde. Then I spent from 1988 to 1993 on the East Coast from Brewster, NY to Anderson, SC (where I was born….and was moved to NM from @ the age of 4) to Tallahassee, FL. I moved back to Albuquerque from there in 1993 at the age of 29 because my mother was ill. She passed away in late 1994. I was 30 years old & through a series of events including surgery to repair my spine @ the neck, I ended up taking a job offer from an old high school friend I had graduated from Highland High School with in 1982.
    He lived in Baltimore, MD.
    So, in August of 1995, I went Greyhound BACK to the East Coast…until 2006. I had met my now wife & had missed Albuquerque every single day for 11 years. And here I am now in 2015.
    Albuquerque has changed quite a bit in my lifetime alone. It’s fun, violent, edgy & a thousand other quirky, contradictory words. The focus on the underbelly of “our fair city” has actually been refreshingly frustrating. We are now made to speak, interact with each other in open, honest discourse & display.
    Albuquerque & New Mexico, in general, are a part of me. I want to make damned sure I am an active part of them. God knows this place has made me who I am. Whether or not you’re a native…you owe it to this place, in your time here, to participate….and pay attention.

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