It’s right there in its title: ATF is The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, fighting gun crime is one of ATF’s primary responsibilities. But of 103 arrests generated by a big-time ATF operation last summer in Albuquerque only 32 involved guns. On the other hand more than 90 involved drugs.
Which might sound impressive if the drug arrests were big time. But they weren’t. According to veteran federal public defenders, most of the cases a flying squad of ATF agents and informants sent to Albuquerque produced were remarkably penny-ante.
Of 54 cases in which ATF asked for drug-buy money to be returned, in only 2 was the amount more than $10,000. In 29 of the 54, the drug deal was for less than $2,000.
You would have never guessed that listening to the ATF Agent in charge of the operation. He told a news conference, the Albuquerque campaign was “the most successful and impactful operation to date,” when it came to taking “violent, repeat offenders” off the streets. The “worst of the worst,”
The reality, says one defense attorney, is that “this is not the worst of the worst, this is the lowest of the lowly.”
This ATF operation, covered brilliantly by our guest today, Albuquerque-based investigative reporter Jeff Proctor for nmindepth.com, not only cast a net of fine mesh guaranteed to capture predominantly small fry, it seems to have a second troubling focus.
The ATF hired for the Albuquerque assignment, 5 confidential informants, 3 African-American, 2 Hispanic. For a city whose ethnic breakdown is 48% Hispanic, 40% Non-Hispanic White, and 3% African American, the ATF “seek out the lawbreakers” team was 60% Black, 40% Hispanic, 0% Non-Hispanic White.
And what did the seekers find? Among those charged with felonies, the percentages were 27% African-American, 57% Hispanic and 14% Non-Hispanic White.
Probably the most curious detail in Jeff’s report is something one of the higher-ranking ATF field agents on the operation said in court: “Individuals with political power” brought his team to ABQ. Agent Russell Johnson has never explained what he meant.
But perhaps John Ehrlichman has. One of President Richard Nixon’s top aides described his leader’s war on drugs: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.”
Might not the Black and Hispanic communities of America be considered likely to be on President Donald Trump’s enemies list?
Jeff Proctor is an investigative reporter with long experience covering the criminal justice system in New Mexico. His reporting is currently seen in New Mexico in Depth and the Santa Fe Reporter, and has recently been featured on the radio series Reveal and in the New York Times. He has also covered the criminal justice system for Albuquerque television station KRQE and the Albuquerque Journal.