It’s not that 38-year-old James M. Boyd was the sort of fellow you would want to invite to dinner. He was homeless, perhaps mentally ill, and an illegal sleeper in the foothills outside Albuquerque. But that’s not a reason for the cops to execute him. And the word execution is not hyperbole.
There was a long stand-off, variously described as 3 to 4 hours, preceding the video. And the video shows how it was about to end peaceably, the heinous offense of a homeless man camping where the law can’t tolerate it. Maybe this is how they roll in New Mexico, given that they have a lot of open space and can’t have people illegally sleeping in it when they have nowhere else to sleep. Whatever.
“Don’t change up the agreement, I’m going to try to walk with you,” Boyd says in the video. The suspect then picks up his belongings as if ready to leave. As he starts to head down the hill, an officer can be heard saying “Do it,” before Boyd is hit with a flash-bang device.
And then, boom, a flash-bang grenade. No explanation. No reason. Maybe there was some cool name the police have for taking a situation that’s about to end without violence and turning it ugly, but if so, its purpose isn’t readily apparent. Boyd reacted to it, as would pretty much any human being, in a way that didn’t please the cops. So they executed him.
Police Chief Gorden Eden’s reaction to the video was about as thoughtful as the shooting itself:
During a news conference, Chief Eden said the shooting was justified because Boyd was a “direct threat” to the three gun-wielding officers. Eden reportedly left the press conference before news stations could ask why officers didn’t use stun guns instead of firing their weapons.
Not just a “threat,” because he had knives in his hands following the flash-bang grenade, because it’s hard to explain how he’s a threat with knives to officers with guns surrounding him, standing far beyond arm’s reach, away from any potential zone of danger. No, he was a “direct threat,” because those are the magic words that are pulled out when a killing needs to be explained.
The Albuquerque Police Department, already under federal investigation for use of force, has backed off its “direct threat” claim in light of pervasive public outrage at this execution. But it won’t bring Boyd back to life.
And if the officer didn’t have a body cam, and the public didn’t have a video that revealed how Boyd was executed in the foothills outside Albuquerque, it would have been just another righteous shoot of a guy you wouldn’t invite to dinner.