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Protesters turn out as the president arrives

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Opponents of President Donald Trump mocked his campaign message in signs and T-shirts – “Make tacos great again,” one shirt said – as they filled Tiguex Park in Albuquerque to protest his first presidential visit to New Mexico.

The Democratic Party of New Mexico organized the event, which attracted hundreds of people. Poets, elected officials and others addressed the crowd beneath a banner that touted “A New Mexico for all.”

U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, an Albuquerque Democrat and one of the first two Native American women elected to the House, had the microphone as Air Force One touched down at Kirtland Air Force Base, about 15 miles away.

“In New Mexico,” Haaland said, “we stand for truth. … We stand together to fight for the right to speak out against racism and bigotry.”

The event at Tiguex Park was one of several protests in New Mexico late Monday.

In Rio Rancho, about 200 protesters gathered outside Trump’s rally in the Santa Ana Star Center.

Profanity filled the air at one point as supporters and opponents of the president screamed at each other. State Police escorted at least one woman away.

Police later took someone else away in handcuffs for having a handgun, which an officer said is prohibited at federal events.

Rio Rancho protesters chanted sporadically “Not my president” and “What do we want? Impeachment! When do we want it? Now!”

The Albuquerque event, meanwhile, had a much different tone. People took dogs, blankets and signs as they spread out on the grass in the park, a 10-minute walk from the Old Town plaza.

Ellen Robinson, a retiree from Albuquerque, wore a “Pussy Power” T-shirt as she prepared to listen to Democratic leaders address the crowd. Trump’s political message, she said, wouldn’t resonate with ordinary New Mexicans.

“All over the neighborhood here,” Robinson said, “we have such a rainbow of people.”

David Starr, a land development consultant from Rio Rancho, said he attended the Tiguex Park rally because he didn’t want to be in his home city when the president arrived. He wore a shirt with an eagle and American flag and described himself as a former Republican who opposes Trump.

“I didn’t desert the Republican Party,” Starr said. “The Republican Party deserted me.”

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, meanwhile, was in Santa Fe, where she welcomed civic leaders from Deming and Luna County to the governor’s residence. She honored them for humanitarian work amid a surge in migrants released into southern New Mexico.

Albuquerque police had a strong presence in the city’s core Monday. Downtown government offices closed early, and traffic and parking were restricted.

Authorities hoped to avoid the tension that gripped Downtown Albuquerque after one of Trump’s rallies in 2016, when supporters and opponents of then-candidate Trump traded insults.

What started as a peaceful protest that night devolved into fiery violence, as protesters jumped onto police cars and smashed windows. Some threw burning T-shirts and bottles at police.

Monday’s protests, in any event, had a much different tone as opponents of the president gathered in the afternoon.

The Democratic Party event at Tiguex Park featured short speeches from Haaland, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján. The crowd chanted “Lock him up” at one point as speakers criticized Trump and vowed to keep New Mexico blue.

“This president is totally devoid of moral leadership,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller told the cheering crowd. “He stands at the top – the most powerful person in the world – leading without compassion, without taking personal responsibility and without a moral compass.”

Near Star Center

In Rio Rancho, east of the Santa Ana Star Center, several State Police officers lined the sidewalk near the group of protesters.

Ericka Mitchell, 28, held a sign that read, “Science is real. Black lives matter. No human is illegal. Love is love. Women’s rights are human rights. Kindness is everything.”

Mitchell said she was there to promote “love and tolerance.”

“I don’t think our president represents that. He being in office has brought a lot of hate,” she said.

Immigration is a big reason Jesse Heitner, 36, was at Monday’s protest.

He took a religious approach to his messaging.

He held a sign with Bible verses, Matthew 25:44-45 and Leviticus 19:33-34.

As a Christian, he said, his religion can be a common ground with Trump’s supporters.

“I think it’s a language they are most likely to listen to,” he said.

He said he especially hopes his messages change minds where immigration is concerned.

“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native born,” his sign read in part.

David Campbell, Rio Rancho city manager, said a designated protest area east of the Star Center was chosen because it was in the sight line and in earshot of the main event. He said those two things are required when finding a space for protest that aligns with First Amendment rights.

Campbell emphasized that protesters weren’t confined to that space and had the right to protest outside it; the area was roped off for organization purposes.

“Anybody can be anyplace. They are not penned,” he said.

In fact, protesters eventually migrated closer to the Star Center.

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