Talk to Native Americans at the Albuquerque Indian Center and the same theme emerges: Homeless Native Americans are more often the target of violence than other homeless.
Several have their own stories of being attacked. Others knew of friends who have been harassed and beaten.
While they are surprised by the savagery and extent of last weekend’s brutal and fatal attacks of two Navajo men, they said beatings of Native Americans occur all the time.
The fatal attacks so concerned officials of the Navajo Nation that they are meeting with Mayor Richard Berry today to discuss ways to help and protect the homeless in Albuquerque, particularly Native Americans.
The meeting was requested by the Navajo Human Rights Commission and Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, who said in a news release that the Navajo Nation is “appalled” by the attack.
The victims, who had been drinking, fell asleep on discarded mattresses in a field near 60th and Central Avenue, when three teenagers beat them with their hands, feet and debris lying on the ground, including a cinder block and a metal pole. The beatings were so savage that the men’s faces were unrecognizable, police said.
The dead men, whose bodies were found Saturday morning, have been identified as Allison Gorman, 44, of Shiprock, and Kee Thompson, 45 or 46, from Church Rock.
“Regardless of the homeless state of the victims,” Shelly said, “no person deserves to be beaten to death in that manner. The horror of such violence in this day and age is incomprehensible.”
Being held in connection with the murders are Alex Rios, 18, Nathaniel Carrillo, 16, and Gilbert Tafoya, 15.
The two victims were known to staff and clients at the Albuquerque Indian Center, which provides basic social services, such as twice-weekly lunches, on-site telephones, substance abuse and domestic violence group counseling, clothing and more.
“It’s a total shock, but not a surprise because it happens to them all the time – not to the point of getting killed in such a violent way – but every day we hear about clients who get assaulted, hit by cars, which is often alcohol related, or thrown out of local businesses,” said center executive director Mary Garcia.
Homeless Native Americans are more susceptible to street violence, she says, because they have gotten so used to it that they consider it part of the urban landscape and not only accept it, but expect it. And because the reservations they come from are generally poor and lack jobs and opportunity, Native Americans aren’t keen to return to them, opting to take their chances in the city.
“Alcohol is the big problem,” said Carol Gabaldon, 53, a Navajo from Fort Defiance, Ariz. “They begin drinking on the reservation and when they leave their alcoholism moves with them. They come to places like Albuquerque thinking they will find a job, but alcohol use makes it difficult to find a job, and if they do find one they can’t keep it. Then they drink more and hit rock bottom and get stuck on the street.”
Gabaldon has lived in Albuquerque for 20 years, been sober for two years and unemployed for six months. She has worked as a licensed electrician and is now training to be a security officer.
About 10 years ago she was accosted by two young men who saw her drunk and staggering down a dark street. She managed to flee to the safety of a nearby store. “My Native American friends on the street tell me all the time how they are harassed. Often when they get beat up they are drunk. The alcohol is the problem.”
Henry Hood, 52, from Church Rock said he was a cousin of murder victim Kee Thompson. “I grew up with him. He was a good guy but I lost track of him and didn’t know he was here.”
Hood has been in Albuquerque for 14 years and lives in veterans’ housing. He used to be homeless, he said, and stayed in different places each night “so people don’t come looking for you and cause trouble.”
Several years ago, when he was homeless, he was walking down Central Avenue near Wyoming when three young men approached him asking for cigarettes and money. When he told them he had neither, “this one guy jumped me and hit me in the head with a baseball bat.”
Margaret Tsosie, 49, originally from Teec Nos Pos, Ariz., works as a tobacco prevention specialist at the Indian Center. She has never been homeless and has been sober for 14 years. She knew murder victim Allison Gorman and said he was a related to the late artist R.C. Gorman.
“I know a lot of Native Americans in Albuquerque and they tell me there’s a lot of violence toward them. I’ve seen it myself,” she said.
About six months ago, while riding a city bus, a man walked onto a bus and confronted a Native American man who was sitting quietly but likely had been drinking, she said. The confrontation escalated and “the bus driver threw the Native American man off the bus but not the guy who provoked the argument.”
Another friend, she said, was walking in the Zuni and San Mateo area and took a shortcut through an alley and was assaulted by three teenagers. “He was not drunk or homeless. He was targeted because he was Native American.”
By Rick Nathanson / Journal Staff Writer, Published: July 24, 2014