Nothing makes me crazier than when I hear mass media — newspapers, radio, videos, video games, movies and TV shows — get the blame for massive societal problems, like violence and crime.

Simple solutions for complex problems are a recipe for disaster, so I don't think fixing the Albuquerque's crime rate is as simple as taking a hammer to the living room Sony. Please know that.

But there are times, many times, when I wonder if Breaking Bad, the revolutionary AMC series about a chemistry teacher-turned-meth dealer, poisoned New Mexico's largest-by-a-long shot city.



Or at the very least, tainted Albuquerque's vision of itself.

And that has created ramifications for everyone in New Mexico, and will again in January, when Albuquerque-based Democrats in the House of Representatives — their phones ringing off the hook from constituents up to here with a sky-high murder rate and endless property crimes — finally get a little religion and decide to take the problem seriously.

Why should that matter for anyone in Santa Fe or Clovis or Gallup? Because the money for a crime fix almost certainly will be fixated on the state's largest city and not the other burgs that face the same problems — downsized, perhaps, but no less troubling.

As New Mexico pulsates with new money for the 2023 fiscal year budget — $1.4 billion, highly viscous manna from the oil patch — you can bet whatever package the Legislature passes and is signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in winter's 30-day session will have a lot of zeroes in it.

Whether it repairs the problem is another matter.

We'll get back to that. But a little about Albuquerque and Breaking Bad.

First, let's define the terms.

Albuquerque was never Mayberry, never nonviolent nor crime-free. It has always been saddled with an overgrown murder rate, in part because this is the West and guns are plentiful, and also because this is America, and drugs are available. The combination is incendiary.

But the city's regular hum of disaster was goosed when the TV show debuted in 2008 and its dramatic quality became part of the national lexicon. In part because of Breaking Bad's popularity — Albuquerque and New Mexico have always had a tapeworm for recognition, regardless of origin — people in the Duke City saw its role in the series as a point of pride.

If 1980s Albuquerque could point to its days as host of an NCAA Final Four and '90s Albuquerque seemed on the brink of being one of the West's go-go-go cities of growth, Breaking Bad gave the next generations of locals something new to trumpet.

Thanks to Hollywood, Albuquerque didn't have to be a Super 8 somewhere between Flagstaff, Ariz., and Oklahoma City. It could be, I guess, a Newark with yuccas — 'Burque. 

Growl when you say it.

But in yet another example of be-careful-what-you-wish-for, the concept of 'Burque, grown to outsized proportions by the image created by Breaking Bad, had a downside: In the minds of many, it normalized all of Albuquerque's warts.

Did Breaking Bad bring the guns, the drugs, the mental illness, the homelessness, the violence? Of course not. Of course not.

But in celebrating a talented writer's vision of a city, Albuquerque seemed to forget that crime, while perhaps common, doesn't take a break when the credits stop rolling. And when it gets to critical mass, whatever that is, the whole place becomes unseemly.

And so, here we are, staring down the barrel of a problem that, currently, is among the first things anyone hears when discussing New Mexico.

They likely won't admit it, but the House Democrats from Albuquerque may have felt the tree limbs creak beneath their feet when they banded together to announce their wish to develop a crime package in January. I don't doubt for a second most had genuine concerns about their fellow citizens and the state's overall economy as they put it together, but let's face it: Electorally speaking, no one is safe, not even House Democrats, in a city on pace to top 100 murders in a year.

Their Republican friends on the other side of the aisle know it, too. Crime might be the innovation-challenged GOP's only issue come the '22 elections, but as the days pass, it's a pretty powerful talking point.

And it might get a test run later this fall. The Albuquerque mayor's race pits Democrat Tim Keller — whose city logo, oddly, celebrates 'Burque — against Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales. Keller ought to win easily, but he's not running against the sheriff. He's running against the murder rate.

There's irony in that. It's the kind Walter White might appreciate.

Phill Casaus is editor of The New Mexican.

(16) comments

Al Chavez

Really? You think the Trump-worshipping Sheriff Gonzales has a chance? A man who sides with a president who egged on one of the most lawless acts in American history? I don't think so.

Victora MARTINEZ

Curious why you ONLY mention 2 Democrat candidates for Albuquerque Mayor when there is a Republican candidate, Eddy Aragon on the ballot. Maybe the answer to your question is the media is biased. Seems odd given the article that you would leave that out.

Maria Bautista

Great Ibservation, minimizar Gonzales and endorsing Keller. Come on Phil, leave room for change. Mb

Ignatz Himmelfarb

"Did Breaking Bad bring the guns, the drugs, the mental illness, the homelessness, the violence? Of course not. Of course not." You then go on to provide absolutely no analysis of what makes this place intractably awful. Lack of employment, lousy schools, underpaid and poorly managed police force with no community engagement seem to have less to do with the situation than a fictional TV show. Grow up.

Maria Bautista

We break the hammer hitting the nail on the head.

Khal Spencer

Phill is right in that you cannot make Albuquerque famous for a science teacher gone rogue and becoming a drug chemist. That said, the problems are much deeper. Dems don't want to look inside themselves as far as their policies have flopped and Republicans have not admitted that their philosophy has been a political stale beer f*rt either.

Mike Johnson

Mass media are not to blame for all of ABQ's problem, politicians are, left wing Democrat ones in this case. However, you and all members of mass media will never admit you are politically aligned allies of these very same politicians and promote their agenda. Thus this bias makes you an accessory after the fact to the problems, since you biased, left wing press types will never aggressively dig into the issues and do your job as real journalists, since you are not. A few do, and I congratulate them, but the majority do not.

Kirk Holmes

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Bob Hyde

Nonsense.

Maria Bautista

Correct Mike.

Barry Rabkin

Increase funding for the Albuquerque police, the County Sheriffs, and the State Police. Ensure these police officers have all the tools and the technologies they need to find new catch the people who break our laws. Change whatever laws are necessary to change to stop the revolving door that lets people charged with breaking our laws to quickly get out on the streets again. Remove any DA, even the top Attorney General, from office that prefers ‘restorative justice’ over criminal justice.

Maria Bautista

Police in New Mexico are well funded, but leadership, Police Chief, Mayor do not know how to use the money.

Bob Hyde

Agreed! But, Breaking Bad can't be blamed, the problem is complex: poverty, education, health, broken families, social status, housing, economics, self respect et al. Glasgow, the other side of the world tackled its crime problem as a health issue. Identifying the the outbreaks and determining underlying cause. I ain't no bleeding heart liberal advocating a social fix, criminals need punished appropriately.

But Glasgow's crime rate was considerably reduced by fixing the underlying problems, Albuquerque could do worse than, at least, checking out their solution, Chicago did so. Albuquerque can't shoot its way out of this.

Maria Bautista

There is money to be made keeping people poor. Poverty Pimps

Prince Michael Jauregui

Truly, a compelling a well-written article. "...New Mexico and Albuquerque have always had a tapeworm for recognition, regardless of origin..."? Boom. At-least the crime-infested, cheap motels that lined Central Ave. in the 70's and 80's were mostly New Mexico's dirty little secret.

Ah, at what price "progress". Indeed.

Maria Bautista

And the West Mesa murders were an effort to rid the streets of prostitues, Someone from APD Vice Squad killed those women.

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