The people of Albuquerque mounted police at a protest earlier this year over a string of fatal shootings. Photograph: Mark Holm/New York Times
The bloodstains have faded but bullet holes remain etched in the peach-coloured wall where Mary Hawkes, a troubled 19-year-old, died in a blast of gunfire. Two crosses, a teddy bear, some candles, plastic flowers and polystyrene cups – she liked her soda – formed an improvised shrine on the pavement this week.
A poster showed an image of her hugging a dog, and messages read: “RIP Mary. God bless U and your family”; “Never forgotten”; “She was never unloved”; and “Beautiful girl lost. Don’t shoot to kill.” Municipal workers have painted over other messages, which accused the Albuquerque police department of murder.
The killing happened at 5.50am on 21 April. The sun had yet to rise over the Sandia mountains – this city on the edge of the Chihuahuan desert was still in darkness. Hawkes was pounding down Zuni Street, pursued by officers who suspected her of earlier stealing a truck.
“I heard sirens. I thought it was an ambulance,” said Maria Gonzalez, 45, who lives in a trailer on the other side of the wall. “Then I heard shots. I told my husband to duck. We didn’t know what was happening.”
According to police, Hawkes stopped and pointed a handgun at an officer who was closing in on foot. He fired, killing her on the spot. Yellow tape sealed the scene, little yellow cones marked the bullet casings, a yellow sheet covered the corpse and Mary Hawkes officially became the 24th person shot dead by the APD since 2010. This week a swat team killed Armand Martin, a 50-year-old US Air Force veteran, after a standoff at his home. He became number 25.
For a city with a population of 555,000 it is a remarkable figure, one that is fanning fears that the police have become a militarised, out-of-control cross between Robocop and Dirty Harry. In a chaotic civic revolt last week, protesters briefly seized city hall and attempted a citizens’ arrest of the police chief.
“When are they going to quit killing people and start taking them into custody?” said one of the protesters, Ken Ellis, whose son, a 25-year-old Iraq war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, was gunned down in 2010. “They have to address this issue. They can’t sweep it under the rug anymore.”
The hit TV series Breaking Bad depicted Albuquerque, a usually sleepy city dwarfed by the vast New Mexico sky, as home to fictitious meth-fuelled drug wars. Lethal police violence, however, is real. No officer has been prosecuted for unlawful killing, yet the city has paid $24m in legal settlements to victims’ relatives.
In the Breaking Bad city, trust in the trigger-happy police has broken down | World news | The Observer.