A protest in New Mexico over a monument depicting a 16th-century Spanish conquistador ended in bloodshed after a threatened counter-protestor opened fire on demonstrators.
Demonstrators gathered outside an Albuquerque museum on Monday for a protest against a statue of Juan de Oñate. The New Mexico Civil Guard, an armed civilian militia, also attended the protest to defend the statue. The demonstration proceeded peacefully at first, but tensions quickly escalated when protesters attempted to destroy the monument.
According to local reports, the stand-off began after the group of protestors brought out the pick-ax. Up until that point, the militia stood by and watched the peaceful demonstration. However, once demonstrators began to destroy the statue some members of the Civil Guard intervened. During the altercation, one man who was attempting to stop the protesters from destroying the statue was thrown down into the streets. Then, a group of protesters began advancing towards him.
The Albuquerque Journal reported that some of the advancing protesters were threatening the man. After first attempting to subdue his assailants with a can of pepper spray, the man brandished a firearm and fired five shots at the group. One person was wounded, and Albuquerque Police say the victim is in critical but stable condition.
Authorities Take Action
Police quickly responded to defuse the situation. Officers used chemical irritants and flashbang grenades to protect themselves and disburse crowds, according to an Albuquerque Police Department spokesperson. As many as six men dressed in military fatigues were taken into custody after the altercation.
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, quickly release a statement condemning the event. She said the armed counter-protesters were there to menace the demonstrators. Albuquerque Police Chief Michael Geier also released a statement promising to prosecute the vigilante group to the fullest extent of the law. He also speculated that the department could seek a federal hate group designation for the group. Chief Geier said the city will remove the statue “until the appropriate civic institutions can determine [the] next steps.”
Just hours before the shooting occurred, local activists celebrated the successful removal of another Juan de Oñate monument in northern New Mexico. The statue depicted Oñate on horseback and was located outside a cultural center in Alcalde, NM. A group of assembled to celebrate as a forklift removed the statue from its pedestal. A group seeking to protect the monument attended the event, but the event proceeded peacefully.
Who is Juan De Oñate?
Juan de Oñate arrived in present-day New Mexico in 1598. Communities that trace their heritage to Spanish settlers celebrate him as a cultural figure. However, indigenous groups believe Oñate was a brutal figure who should be universally despised. Critics often point to Oñate’s reprisal against a group of captive native warriors for the death of his nephew. Oñate ordered his men to amputate the right feet of 24 captives in retaliation for his nephew’s death.
Efforts to remove historic monuments have gained momentum over the past weeks due to the racial unrest surrounding the death of George Floyd. Protesters have targeted several monuments depicting prominent European and Confederate figures. Also, they have removed many statues since the Floyd protests swept through the country.
However, many Americans feel these monuments represent a cultural link to their heritage, so the issue has become a very divisive topic across the US. Nationwide efforts to remove controversial monuments from public spaces continue, and it’s likely that more statues will be removed before it’s all said and done.