It’s no secret that the so-called Sunshine Laws, laws regarding which documents created and handled by our government agencies become public record, are extremely important. They help to maintain a level of transparency between elected officials and other government employees and the average citizen. Under most state laws, most documents created, used, or stored by these parties can actually be requested by just about anyone that is interested in them. The governmental body then has a predetermined amount of time to prepare and hand those documents over.
Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, one would think, but the reality can sometimes get a bit more complex. It’s not unheard of for laws to make the retrieval time consuming or expensive, and for government agencies to leverage these properties to discourage people from making requests in the first place. Of course, none of this even matters if no one is actually taking advantage of the Sunshine Laws and making requests/keeping tabs on the goings on within government.
Luckily for the state of New Mexico, and in particular the residents of the Albuquerque area, one man has made quite a concerted effort to keep an eye on the actions of public servants. Albuquerque native Charles Arasim has a keen interest in the workings of state and municipal government, and fuels this interest via allowed actions from the Sunshine Laws.
It all started, apparently, in 2010, when Arasim received a fraudulent ticket from the Albuquerque Police Department. After the treatment of his case from a police oversight board was less than satisfactory, Arasim determined that he might not be the only one who had been the victim of some shady practices from departments of state that were meant to help the people, not shake them down.
Unsurprisingly, given both Arasim’s personal experiences as well as current events within the US, his work as a community activist has focused mostly on police accountability. He has worked closely with the families of victims of police violence to help them record meetings with the police when legally entitled to do so and then to share these videos with the world on Youtube. His channels have helped gain exposure for some obscure cases and meetings that might have never gotten into the public eye otherwise. As some of the cases Arasim works on have involved shootings, much of his advocacy for families comes post-mortem, when a loved one has already been lost.
Of course, the Police Oversight Commission and the police department themselves haven’t taken kindly to Arasim’s constant poking around and requesting of information. According to him, they’ve tried just about every move in their arsenal to delay and deny requests, though often to no avail. Recently, he has actually been involved in successful court cases against police-related offices in the area following alleged abuse or dodging of public records laws. One case saw him winning back his right to First Amendment free speech where it had been infringed upon. While not every community has someone like Arasim fighting for them, and while not everyone believes him to be such a benevolent hero, policing the police is a theme that is likely to grow as time goes on.