Eddie Nuñez and Mayor Tim Keller, Can We Now Start a Conversation About Ending Albuquerque Homicides?

(UPDATE: Darian Bashir, the suspect in the shooting death of Jackson Weller was arrested in the early morning on May 11.)

Jackson Weller, a junior at UNM and a member of the Lobo baseball program, was shot and killed in Nob Hill in the wee hours of Saturday.

Copyright Enchantment Sports and Tick Talk Media, LLC

By Mark Smith

Enchantment Sports

Editor in Chief

I get it. It’s a sensitive time. It’s emotional, it’s devastating and it’s definitely a time for respect.

I obviously expected tears of compassion.

But I also expected tears of passion.

I expected cries from heartbreak.

As well as cries for justice.

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Lobo baseball coach Ray Birmingham at Monday’s emotional news conference.

I expected rage. I expected venom. I expected a plea for help from the Albuquerque community.

On Monday afternoon, University of New Mexico athletic director Eddie Nuñez and Lobo baseball coach Ray Birmingham held a news conference about the weekend shooting death of UNM student Jackson Weller, who was a member of the Lobo baseball program.

It was solemn and gut-wrenching.

Birmingham wept when describing Weller, a 23-year-old he said he called “John Wayne,” but didn’t elaborate.

Yet, despite it being 2½ days since the senseless and horrific homicide — Weller being gunned down at 2:15 a.m. on Saturday while at an outdoor taco restaurant in the heart of lively Nob Hill — there was no rage. When asked about concern for his students’ safety, Nuñez said, “At this time, we’re not going to address anything that deals (pause)… we all understand what’s going on in this city and everything else. But this is not the time or the place for this conversation.”

Again, I get it. But with all due respect, Eddie, when exactly is the time?

IMG_5717
UNM athletics director Eddie Nuñez.

Gun violence is ravaging Albuquerque. We have one of the most violent cities in America.

And right now, nearly five days later, no suspect has been arrested. No description has even been made.

And I’m still waiting for the rage — or at least the conversation to begin.

I trust APD has reasons for being so tight-lipped about the investigation.

I pray it’s not out of concern for offending anyone in this out-of-control PC nation.

If I’m not mistaken, the first 48 hours following a homicide are the most critical in a homicide investigation. But the story has already fallen out of local headlines.

“We had a lot of calls about it on Monday,” said Michael Carlyle, host of KNML’s The Sports Bar (610 AM/95.9 FM) afternoon sports talk show. “But we only had a few on Tuesday. It’s already fading off.”

On Tuesday, KOAT (Channel 7) did have a report from Nob Hill — just feet from the slaying.

But the report was about the new “Greetings from Burque” mural. There was no mention of the irony in the KOAT story (here) about the location of the mural to site of the killing.

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KOAT-TV

Meanwhile, the Lobo baseball team is playing host to UNLV in a three-game series beginning Friday.

Weller, as a non-scholarship, non-roster member of the program, wouldn’t have been on the field for the games.

Weller will definitely be there in spirit. But will never be on any field again. The Texas native never did get into a game for UNM, a school he transferred to last year from a Phoenix-area junior college.

Again I ask, where are the cries for justice from UNM? From politicians? From the media. From watchdog groups? From the public?

Why is there more made of police overtime than criminals getting over time and time again on this city?

Why are judges letting them walk free so quickly?

A tough time for tough questions

As a disclaimer, I wasn’t informed ahead of time about Monday’s UNM news conference. A UNM spokesman said that was due to a mistake on the email list, and I believe he was sincere. I know I would have had a horribly difficult time asking any tough questions, but I also know I would have.

I also realize that due to the investigation, Nuñez’s and Birmingham’s hands are tied when it comes to releasing information. But a reporter’s job is to ask, so I emailed UNM a list of inquiries I feel are important, including:

  • Were any Lobo baseball players with Weller at the time of the shooting?
  • Does Birmingham — whose team was scheduled to play last Saturday afternoon (the game was postponed because of the tragedy) — have curfews for his players? The shooting happened just 12 hours before the game was to begin.
  • If there are curfews, did any of his players violate them?

None of those was answered. Again, I understand.Jackson Weller

But the questions need to be asked. And as far as a curfew, it’s unfortunate that it even needs to be addressed. Adult college students should be able to go anywhere at any time in this town without having to worry about gun violence.

But most coaches do have curfews, so it is relevant.

And it’s no longer the case that college students — or anyone else in this town — can feel safe from being shot, especially in certain areas at certain times.

So, since nobody at UNM — or in most political circles in this city or state — is willing to start such a discussion about how violent Albuquerque has become,  I will.

Saturday morning’s homicide came about a month after Albuquerque mayor Tim Keller sent letters trying to encourage high school students to attend UNM, acknowledging problems but saying he is working on them.

But instead of recruiting students to UNM, I’d much rather see Keller recruiting officers to the Albuquerque Police Department — while doing all he can to make get the gun-weary residents of his city to respect and assist the officers we already have.

“The narrative against cops is out of control,” one veteran APD officer told me. “Anytime there is a sensational shooting (by an officer) anywhere in the country, it has an effect on every officer in this country. The national narrative against cops during the past eight years or so isn’t a fair reflection of all we do for communities.”

Nuñez is new here. And I doubt that he’s long for this city.

But I’m not new. I am an Albuquerque native. And I am long for here.

And I also long for the city in which I grew up and was so proud.

It’s heartbreaking to see what it’s becoming. We’re averaging more than one shooting per day this year and in 2016 had the highest car theft rate of any city in the country — with UNM having the highest such rate of any school in the nation.

Shut up, SMITH! You could cost us a 4-star water polo recruit!

Taboo subjects? I think not.

And yes, I know there’s no water polo here.

But it’s not a secret on campus. Just last fall, a Lobo coach told me how he has to battle the image of Albuquerque crime while battling for recruits.

And recently, Birmingham told the media how a player quit the team last fall and transferred schools after being held-up at gunpoint. I don’t know if that was ever reported until Will Webber quoted Birmingham in a story on Sunday after Weller was gunned down.

I loved watching “Breaking Bad,” but I always wondered why Albuquerque officials allowed the city to be portrayed as being so violent on television. But I never thought the show would become reality.

Will Albuquerque ever become our sanctuary again?

I so miss the days when, as a grade-school kid, my father, Manny, would play handball at the Downtown YMCA and give me a couple of bucks to walk across Central to Vip’s Big Boy to buy myself a burger and fries. Dad never had reason to worry if I’d be all right.

There was no reason.

Nor was there reason for him or mom to worry about me walking two miles to Mile High Little League to play games. Or stay out until dark to play outdoor, hardcourt hoop — be it at Lowell Elementary, Collet Park, Snow Park or anywhere else in town.

Lock the doors at night? In the sticky, brutally hot summers with a banged up swamp cooler?

Are you kidding me?

There was no need. Nobody thought about violent crime. We were safe.

I’m not naive, I know how much the entire country has changed since my youth. Still, this is Albuquerque.

We aren’t Houston, for crying out loud. We aren’t Oakland. We aren’t New Orleans. And we’re definitely not Chicago.

crimeNo, we’re worse.

USA Today, CBS, Wall Street Journal — look at any list you choose — report Albuquerque in the top 11 most dangerous cities in America.

But it’s not yet time for a conversation, Eddie?

How about you, Tim?

Is trying to bring more students to UNM more important that sending more criminals out of Albuquerque?

Instead of turning Albuquerque into a sanctuary city for asylum seekers, how about making it a sanctuary city for Albuquerqueans seeking to raise families?

I, too, have endless compassion for the hungry, homeless, sick and elderly. But I also have compassion for my city. For its residents.

And more than anything on Earth, for my family.

My voice may no longer reach as many as it did during my previous four decades as an Albuquerque journalist. But I still have a voice.

And if nobody else is going to use their voice to get the conversation started, I will.

I want my city back.


Mark Smith column sigMark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for more than four decades, and is one of the most decorated sports journalists in state history. Smith has won more than 30 combined awards in print, television and radio. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.

 

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