Navajo commission aims to raise awareness of hate crime

ALBUQUERQUE, N. M. – The killing this spring of a homeless man who the police say was shot by two Albuquerque teenagers “for the fun” is the driving force for the civil rights and Navajo Nation human rights activists to push for more vigilance among the members of the community in the reporting of attacks is seen as directly aimed at the Native Americans.

The Navajo Nation human Rights Commission held training sessions this week at the Albuquerque Indian Center and City Hall aimed at raising awareness of hate crimes against the indians, with lawyers and federal governments in which the legal standards for them and how to report them.

“This is a sensitive topic, for real,” cried Joleen Kelly from the back of a large conference room at the Albuquerque Indian Center, as they and others who are looking for services in the nonprofit expressed concern Wednesday about how they believe they are harassed on the streets of the city.

Arusha Gordon, a lawyer with the Washington-based Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, admonished them that at the Albuquerque Indian Center to document and report to law enforcement attacks, together with copies of the threatening hate speech. The second of the training this week was held in the town Hall, where officials encouraged officials and police officers to attend.

The events came two months after authorities charged two Albuquerque teenagers in the shooting death of 50-year-old Ronnie Ross, who was of the Navajo Nation town of Shiprock. The police said in a criminal complaint that one of the boys, who The Associated Press is not naming because of their age, had friends told me afterward that he had shot “a hobo in the back.”

The crime had marked the latest in a series of multiple murders in the past few years with the homeless Navajo victims. Others are the 2014 the beat of the deaths by three teens of Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson as she slept, and the dead of the last winter of the 39-year-old Audra Willis, who was found decapitated on the city’s east side.

Although in none of the cases have been classified as hate crimes by the police, the lawyers say they still underscore ongoing concerns for the safety of the homeless indians, the statistics are over-represented among those living on the streets in New Mexico’s largest city.

In Albuquerque, native americans make up 4 percent of the population, but account for 44 percent of the people without shelter, increasing the chances that they become victims when there is an attack on the homeless.

A 2014 survey showed 75 percent of homeless native americans in Albuquerque had been physical violence.

For crimes to be classified as a hate crime, authorities say that there must be clear evidence that the victim was targeted because of his or her race. The homeless are not a protected class under New Mexico’s hate crime statute.

Michelle Melendez, director of the Albuquerque Office of Equity and Inclusion, said she and others are currently in the process of previous recommendations for addressing homelessness among Native Americans as the city of the race, a task force on the subject.

“I think it would be important for officials to consider that there are many of the American Indians in the Albuquerque metro area that are homeless,” said Colleen Gordon, an artist and member of the board of the local non-profit Quote Unquote Inc. who participated in the session at the Albuquerque Indian Center. “Just because people are not on the property doesn’t make them worthless.”

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