Impelled By Tragedy, Police Reform Advocates Make Meaningful, If Uneven, Progress Across Region

Elaine Maestas has been pushing for comprehensive police reform in New Mexico after Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputies shot Elisha Lucero to death on July 22, 2019. Maestas said her sister had mental health issues and whenever they needed help, a mental health clinician and an officer would respond. When the family called for help late one night, sheriff's deputies responded instead.

Since her sister's death Maestas has become a vocal proponent for police reform and is now a police accountability strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. During a recent virtual hearing for a police reform bill at the New Mexico Legislature, Maestas testified through tears about the night of her sister’s death: “Why did this man shoot her in her face? She was bleeding from her chest and he couldn’t see a knife. Clearly, she was not a threat.”

When it comes to challenging the status quo and reshaping the criminal justice system, the role of activists cannot be overstated, said Howard Henderson, founder of the Center for Justice Research at Texas Southern University.

“They've helped educate, they've helped empower communities and also created another generation of people who are focused on meaningful change,” he said.

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