Riot at Roosevelt Park – 50 Year Anniversary

Today is the 50th anniversary of the 1971 Albuquerque riot. I find it interesting how some things never change. Here is the article from the New York times on that day describing what happened.

Albuquerque had its first big riot this week. It started Sunday in a city park where hundreds of almost naked hippies and hundreds of teen‐agers from Albuquerque’s Mexican‐American barrios had gathered to listen to a rock concert that never took place.

The city police, making routine round‐up of youths smoking marijuana and drinking beer, were suddenly set upon by parts of the crowd. Before calm was restored on Tuesday morning, 41 persons had been injured, 15 or so of them by gunfire; arsonists armed with fire‐bombs had destroyed about $3‐million worth of buildings and automobiles, and broken glass from storefronts had littered five miles of Highway 66, which runs through the heart of the city. The peace was being kept by the New Mexico National Guard.

In the aftermath of the violence, city officials asked why. They asked the question of one another, refusing invitations from the city’s leading militant group, the Black Berets, to meet and discuss the cause and effect. The Black Berets, a “brown power” movement with some Negro membership, said they felt that they had been shouting into a vacuum warnings about unemployment, frustration and what they see as racism and police brutality.

Another reason for the riots may have been a smoldering resentment by those of Mexican‐Spanish heritage that the city they once had dominated had been taken from them by Anglo immigrants who have moved into Albuquerque since 1940 to work with the Federal Government. Federal payrolls provide 25 to 30 per cent of the city’s income.

The Federal payrolls and the atomic bomb made Albuquerque a city.

By the time of its founding in 1706 by Spanish explorers until World War II, Albuquerque was little more than a wayside stop. Its high altitude—up to almost 6,000 feet—and its desert‐like climate made it something of a health resort. Its climate and nearby Indian communes were its main attractions.

Then, about 30 years ago, New Mexico was chosen as the state where the atomic bomb would be developed and tested. Albuquerque began to grow as Federal employes poured into the area. The bomb was put together at Los Alamos, 60 (miles north of Albuquerque. It was tested on alkali flats 75 miles south of Albuquerque.

Albuquerque remained center of United States atomic weaponry and its population increased almost 800 per cent in three decades, from 40,000 to 315,000 in the metropolitan area,

The city’s culture also changed drastically. It has been transformed from Spanish to Anglo. Albuquerque, which was once 100 per cent Indian, Mexican and Spanish, is now 75 per cent Anglo. All of New Mexico has developed similarly.

The New Mexico National Guard was brought into play in the 1967 violence. Maj. Gen. John P. Jolly, the state adjutant general, used guardsmen to round up the families of Tijerina’s followers. Old women and children were herded into a sheep bin and kept under armed guard for several hours even though they were never charged with a crime.

The Guard was also used last summer to break up a student demonstration at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque. The demonstration had been joined by many of the thousands of hippies who live on the streets of Albuquerque. Motion pictures taken last summer showed guardsmen beating students. One young man on crutches was shown being knocked down by guardsman wielding a rifle butt. The hippies, a part of the Albuquerque scene in recent years, laze around in the parks working now and then to get money for food and marijuana. This year, with New Mexico hard hit by the economic recession, the hippies have had difficulty in finding jobs. So have many of the Mexican‐Spanish. Unemployment figures for Albuquerque this spring have not yet been released, but the jobless rate was 6.9 per cent in March and state economists say the situation has worsened.

A Federal antipoverty worker I said that the unemployment rate among the Mexican‐Spanish in their late teens and early twenties is more than 20 per cent in Albuquerque. About half of the city’s Mexican and Spanish families are considered to be poverty‐stricken.

After the first wave of this week’s riot had subsided on Monday morning, several of the demonstrators said they had been protesting what they described as police brutality. Unemployment and racial resentment were scarcely mentioned. City officials denied that there had been police brutality at any time. They reacted to the outbreak of violence with statements to the effect that “out‐of‐state agitators” had come to Albuquerque to lead the riot. Of the 135 demonstrators arrested on Sunday, dozen or so were from out of state; most of these were visiting hippies who had been in the park and joined in throwing rocks and fire‐bombs.

The city gave permission for another rally in Roosevelt Park for Monday afternoon. Sunday’s riot had started in the park. Lieut. Gov. Robert Mondragon, who is of Mexican and Spanish heritage, and Attorney General David Norvall agreed to investigate the alleged police brutality and to recommend the creation of a civilian review hoard for the Albuquerque Police Department. But the crowd of teen‐agers was not cooled down. Several hundred of them left the park and went on a fire‐bombing rampage that was ended four hours later by the city and state police and the National Guard, who made almost 300 arrests after tear‐gassing large section of town. There were complaints from numerous hippies that they were arrested as they walked through the city trying to hitch rides from passing motorists.

Chief Donald Byrd said that his police force was so greatly outnumbered that it was deemed prudent to wait until the National Guard was in place before trying to bring the situation under control. Gov. Bruce King, who had come to Albuquerque to observe the riot damage, said he would appoint a special commission to investigate what happened. The Municipal‐State Supreme Court issued a statement saying that the police had nothing to fear from the courts for “reasonable” actions taken to quell civil disturbances.

Almost none of the 500 persons arrested on Sunday and Monday were tried this week. The trials had been scheduled for. Thursday but they were postponed for 10 days. There was some difficulty in arranging attorneys for the accused and judges said they wanted to allow time for the situation to cool off.

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