Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.
- Rosa Luxemburg, "Junius Pamphlet" 1916

Friday, December 10, 2010

They say Albuquerque is dying: an American city confronts peak oil, July 2015

Duke City 
Friday, July 3, 2015
11:55 p.m. MDT

Albuquerque police opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators outside a supermarket early this evening, killing five people and wounding at least 11 others, according to police and hospital sources.

Incidents of rioting, vandalism, and arson have erupted throughout the city following the shootings at the supermarket. At least two police officers are known dead in the city-wide violence and four others wounded, according to a police spokesman. The number of dead and injured among civilians in the hours after the supermarket clash remains unknown, but numerous eyewitness reports say police have used deadly force repeatedly throughout the evening.

Today's outbreak of mass violence was believed to be the worst civil disorder in the state since New Mexico was occupied by U.S. military forces during the Mexican War of 1846-48.

Numerous, extensive fires have been reported throughout the Albuquerque metro area, affecting commercial and residential buildings as well as vehicles. The glow from the fires was visible as far away as Los Alamos, fifty miles to the north. 

1: Downtown Albuquerque, July 3, 2015

At 10:00 p.m. this evening, Albuquerque Mayor Darren White issued a directive establishing a near-total dusk-to-dawn curfew throughout the city, effective immediately. In a written statement, the mayor officially authorized police to use deadly force at their discretion to enforce the curfew. Police and emergency services personnel are exempted from the curfew. The mayor's office and police have ordered all other city residents to stay in their homes or businesses for the duration of the curfew.

The mayor has reportedly asked New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez for National Guard assistance. Information to that effect comes from sources with the City Council who asked to remain anonymous. Eyewitness accounts of troop carriers moving south on Interstate 25 between Santa Fe and Albuquerque could not be immediately confirmed.

The demonstration and shootings which triggered violence across the city took place at the Albertsen's supermarket on Isleta Blvd SW. At about 6:00 p.m., several hundred local residents began to gather in the parking lot outside the store. South Valley community groups had called for the demonstration the previous day, in response to accusations of hoarding, price gouging, and favoritism against the store's corporate management. The crowd size soon swelled to 2,000 or more, according to eyewitnesses.

Police appeared on the scene at about 7:00 p.m. At least two dozen patrol cars and several SWAT teams were reported gathering on the fringes of the demonstration. Two police helicopters patrolled the airspace in the neighborhood as police ordered the protesters to disperse via loudspeaker. The police warnings came at about 7:15 p.m. The sound of gunshots was heard soon thereafter, according to eyewitnesses. Police and community leaders each accused the other of firing first.

Organizers of the Albertsen's protest say police opened fire indiscriminately, without provocation, pouring dozens of rounds of live fire into a dense crowd of demonstrators. "They just started shooting at anything," said Albert Romero, President of the South Valley Coalition of Neighborhood Associations.  "There was no cause for it, none at all," Romero said, his voice breaking. "These were peaceful people going hungry. What the hell are we supposed to do?"

Deputy Police Chief Joseph Vigil said in a statement to media that police were fired upon by gunmen within the crowd and "used legitimate, appropriate force to defend themselves and stabilize the situation."

Emergency room personnel at University of New Mexico Hospital confirmed five deaths by gunshot wound among victims treated at that facility. Eleven other victims of the Albertsen's violence were treated for various injuries. Four of these are said to be in critical condition. Officials at university hospital and other medical centers reported scores of additional victims as violence spread across the city. Health care providers say precise numbers of dead and wounded are impossible to estimate, owing to "the fluidity of the situation," as one hospital administrator put it. 

2: Barelas neighborhood, Albuquerque, July 3, 2015

Tonight's riot at the Albertsen's supermarket, and subsequent violence, comes amidst an acute worsening of the national economic crisis in recent weeks. Local food prices have spiked dramatically, as they have across the nation. Economists blame poor agricultural output in much of the world and the latest explosion in global oil prices. After declining to $110 per barrel late last year, oil closed today at an average price of $272 on global commodity exchanges. Gas at the pump in Albuquerque hit a new record this week, according to the American Automobile Association, averaging $9.61 per gallon.

A seemingly endless litany of national economic woes has worsened the picture. Relentlessly increasing unemployment has fueled an eruption of mass poverty unseen in the United States since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The nation's official unemployment rate stands at 19.7%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with the New Mexico jobless rate reported at 22.3%. Meanwhile, draconian fiscal austerity at the local and national level has cut social services such as food stamps, Medicaid, and unemployment relief.

The crisis has exacted a grim toll in Albuquerque and around the state. Food shortages, once unthinkable, have become a fact of American life in the last year. Skyrocketing oil prices have driven up costs for fertilizers, pesticides, tractor fuel, and other petroleum-based essentials of industrial farming. Soaring transportation costs have bankrupted trucking companies and kept food from reaching supermarket shelves in sufficient quantity to keep up with demand.

Meanwhile, New Mexico's drought emergency enters its twenty fifth consecutive month. Governor Martinez has repeatedly urged voluntary residential and commercial water conservation measures, to little apparent affect. Today's high temperature of 111 degrees Fahrenheit marked the eleventh time in the last thirteen days that the temperature has broken the century mark.

So far, authorities in Washington have warned state governments to expect little in the way of federal assistance. President Mitch Daniels says other national needs must take priority, including the ongoing U.S. budget crisis and military operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Vice President Mike Huckabee, speaking at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque last week, promised that essential national security facilities in New Mexico would remain untouched by the nation's fiscal emergency.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico has called on the Daniels administration to institute food rationing and subsidies for the middle and working classes. So far, White House officials remain cool to any such move toward what a National Economic Council staffer called "failed big government policies our nation can ill afford in the present situation."

Albuquerque citizens have reacted with growing anger and frustration to food shortages at local stores. Albertsen's, in particular, has faced accusations of favoritism. Community activists say the supermarket chain continues to sell food at bulk discounts, directly from wholesale distribution centers, to corporations, government officials, and wealthy individuals. "It's outrageous and it's immoral," said Miranda Begay, a neighborhood coordinator for the Albuquerque Transition Network. Referring to Albertsen's management, Begay declared, "We've got families on the verge of starvation everywhere in this city and they're selling food at cost to people who have everything they could ever want."

Albertsen's representatives have denied those charges. They say the ongoing shortage of food staples results purely from high fuel prices and global market conditions in recent months.

An investigation by Duke City, published in a series of reports in April and May this year, documented at least five apparent instances of bulk discount sales to corporate customers by Albertsen's employees.

Mayor Darren White's office has indicated that maintaining order will be his top priority in responding to the economic emergency. "People have to know that the government's going to keep the peace," he told worshipers last Sunday at New Hope Evangelical Church in Albuquerque's Northeast Heights. "Without law there can be no liberty," the mayor declared. "And liberty is one thing we're going to keep in this hour of our country's greatest peril."

Community activists have taken a different tack, emphasizing grassroots engagement for social justice as the key to a prosperous future. Environmental, labor, and religious groups have organized an array of grassroots, non-governmental efforts for economic relief over the last three years. Governments at the city, state, and national level face bankruptcy, but local initiatives have tried their best to fill what seems a growing gap between public resources and public needs.

Albuquerque Transition Network's Melissa Begay tried to sound a note of hope about the future. "There's so much good that we could do," she said, as television coverage of this evening's violence unfolded in her Barelas area home. At an an impromptu meeting with fellow activists in her living room, Begay said, "Neighborhoods are starting to come together, to help each other. We've got teams of master gardeners teaching the basics of urban farming. We've got teachers passing on real trades and real skills that people are going to need to take care of their families. Carpentry, mechanics, you name it. We can do so much. The city could help, if they wanted to. They should be helping us instead of killing us."

Others in the community reacted to tonight's events with disbelief and despair. Only blocks away from the meeting of activists at the home of Melissa Begay, a bleeding man comforted his two children while their family-owned hardware store burned nearby. The man, who asked not to be named, said he'd been wounded by gunfire from Albuquerque police. A bloody wound to his shoulder had been patched with a makeshift bandage.

"I never seen the like," he said. "Never here, anything like this. I fought in Waziristan for this country," he said, referring to service in the Pakistan war with the United States Army. "I thought this kind of stuff only happened in other places."

Where does he think we go from here?

The man paused, watching the fire burning across the street. "They say this is the end times, you know? That maybe this is it. They say Albuquerque is dying. And the world too, you know? But if this is the way it's going to be, then maybe I don't want it all to go on, right? Maybe it's all better to just let it go."

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Public domain photos from Wikimedia Commons:




  1. I might make this the first in a continuing series. It seems like a good way to work through the details of what the coming crisis of peak oil and climate change might look like at the local level. Another purpose would be for me to explore how local events will interact with broader national and global forces.

    When I write stuff like this I tend to be a little more detached and far less polemical. To me it feels like writing history, and so I feel a duty to look at the world with an appreciation of how complex and messy everything is.

    Duke City is a fictional alternative news organization with a left-progressive point of view. I imagine it as funded in part by grants and donations, in part by advertising, with heavy reliance on volunteers for reporting and research.

    The style of the article mimics, to a large degree, the stylistic conventions of mainstream American journalism. Unlike such journalism, it takes an inherently skeptical point of view toward state power and corporate business interests. It also makes an effort to include community perspectives and grass roots organizations as central players rather than simply one "special interest" among many.

    Some biographical notes.

    Darren White, Republican, is currently Director of Public Safety for the City of Albuquerque. As a former county sheriff and state secretary of public safety, he has a reputation as a hard-nosed law and order pol.

    Susana Martinez, Republican, was elected governor of New Mexico on 2010. She will be inaugurated on on January 1, 2011.

    Mitch Daniels, Republican, is Governor of Indiana. He has been mentioned as a candidate capable of winning over the GOP political establishment in 2012, although he faces skepticism from the Tea Party base. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a darling of that base, would help balance the ticket in a Daniels presidential run.

    I briefly considered making David Petraeus, currently commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the President or Vice President. That felt too exotic. To make this extreme scenario (extreme to non-peak oil people, anyway) plausible, going with milquetoast politicians seemed the best choice to help build an aura of credibility.

    Deputy Police Chief Joseph Vigil is fictional, and so too is community leader Albert Romero and his umbrella organization of neighborhood associations. Although such an organization seems like a logical sort of mechanism to coordinate grassroots efforts during a national economic emergency.

    Melissa Begay is fictional. Her last name is common on the Navajo reservation, but this article portrays her as living in the traditionally Hispanic Barelas neighborhood near downtown Albuquerque. Just a little touch of idealism.

    The Albuquerque Transition Network is consciously based on the real life Transition Network established by Rob Hopkins and company in the United Kingdom. Hopkins and others in the Transition movement have dedicated themselves to building economic and social resilience at the community level as a response to the oncoming emergency of peak oil and climate change.

    Currently, Albuquerque has no functioning Transition Initiative of its own. I introduced one into my fictional Albuquerque of 2015 as a deliberate counterpoint to the dire events described in the article.

    I deliberately chose a shocking, dramatic event as the focus of this article and the opening act of whatever story arc follows, if any. This reflects my limited but useful experience in screenwriting and prose fiction. One must start with a bang in order to grab the audience. After that, you can start introducing strands of events and characters to follow over the course of time.

    I have no idea what's going to happen next. Like actual history in the making, I'll find out as I go, day by day.

  2. Additional note: I was tear gassed by Albuquerque police on March 17, 2003, along with my girlfriend at the time and her dog Charles. We went there to attend peaceful demonstration against the outbreak of the Iraq war earlier that day.

    I videotaped the events. From my perspective, the police fired gas at peaceful protesters without provocation. The video I took supports that impression. I turned it over to the legal team that later sued the Albuquerque police department.

    A number of demonstrators were beaten by the police and shot by rubber bullets at close range.

    It was among the scariest events I've ever experienced. I think what I'll remember most are the minutes leading up to the outbreak of violence. You could almost smell the primate dominance hormones emanating from the phalanxes of armored police. You knew something was going to happen. And it wouldn't be in any way good. Waiting for the hammer to fall was almost worsen than having my lungs burned by gas.

    On March 8, 2010, a jury acquitted the Albuquerque police department of wrongdoing in the 2003 event.