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Public defenders, community march in Aztec to protest systemic racism

The New Mexico Public Defender's Office said black residents make up about two percent of the state's population but are incarcerated at a rate 6.4 times higher than white residents.

Joshua Kellogg
Farmington Daily Times
  • Aztec public defenders and community members marched along Aztec Boulevard as part of a protest organized by Public Defenders for Racial Justice
  • There were five protest marches held by state public defenders on June 8, including in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces
  • The state public defenders office said black residents receive longer sentences for the same convictions than people from other races

FARMINGTON — A group of protesters took their handmade signs containing phrases like "Black Lives Matter" and marched across parts of Aztec as part of a nationwide protest organized by public defenders to confront systemic racism and inequity.

Members of the state public defender's office in Aztec and the community marched along Aztec Boulevard on June 9 as part of a protest organized by Public Defenders for Racial Justice involving public defenders in Contra Costa County, California, according to a New Mexico Law Offices of the Public Defender press release.

Protests have taken place in Farmington, across New Mexico, the nation and the world following the death of George Floyd on May 25 by a fired Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer accused of Floyd's murder.

Derek Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and three other officers that were also fired face charges as they allegedly stood by and watched Chauvin as he allegedly had his knee on the Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

The state public defender's office stated black residents make up about two percent of the state's population but are incarcerated at a rate 6.4 times higher than white residents.

Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe, center, walks with the community and department members along South Oliver Drive in Aztec as members of the state public defender's office in Aztec and the community marched on June 8 as part of a protest organized by Public Defenders for Racial Justice

The press release also stated black residents receive longer sentences for the same convictions than people from other races.

There were five protest marches held by state public defenders on June 8, including in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Las Cruces.

MORE:Black Lives Matter protesters gather in Farmington over George Floyd's death

It was group of about 20 to 25 people who marched from the Aztec District Court building at 103 S. Oliver Dr. eastbound along Aztec Boulevard toward the intersection of Ruins Road and Aztec Boulevard.

At the intersection, they turned around and marched back toward the courthouse.

Members of the state public defender's office in Aztec and the community march along Aztec Boulevard on June 8 as part of a protest organized by Public Defenders for Racial Justice.

Vehicles driving by the protesters would honk their horns, encouraging the marchers to raise their signs.

"I think it's really important that we recognize that there are people in our society that don't have the same rights and privileges, even though constitutionally we are all afforded the same privileges," Public Defender Sarah Field said. "Now is the time in our country that lots of people are coming together to recognize that.

MORE:Protesters at Animas Valley Mall in response to death of George Floyd

It was the first protest for Nicholas Garcia, who goes by the Drag Queen name Aluna Del Rey.

Garcia told The Daily Times that change needs to happen as items like systemic racism have been swept under the rug for too long.

"Usually I'm very quiet and don't speak my mind," Garcia said. "This is a good time to speak up and use my platform as a draq queen to essentially spread good work and positivity with change.

Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe and some members of the department participated in the march but fell behind the protesters after attending to a vehicle collision. Hebbe told The Daily Times they were invited to the march by its organizers.

MORE:New charges in George Floyd's death: Derek Chauvin faces second-degree murder; 3 other officers charged

When asked about how her clients have fared in the area, Field said a lot of law enforcement in the area are really supportive of the public defender's clients.

"Unfortunately, it's not the case across the board," Field said. "We do face systematic oppression, not just for black people but for the indigenous populations we represent. We wanted to let our community know that we support them."

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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