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Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
One man was shot in Old Town as a protest over the “La Jornada” sculpture in front of the Albuquerque Museum erupted into violence Monday evening.
The shooting occurred during a clash following a peaceful protest to remove the controversial sculpture, a monument that features conquistador Juan de Oñate. The FBI is assisting in the investigation, according to an APD spokesman. U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, meanwhile, called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the shooting.
The night began with peaceful protest and prayer but tensions began to escalate when protesters took a pickaxe to the statue and members of the heavily armed New Mexico Civil Guard, a civilian group, tried to protect the monument.
Before the night was over Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other officials condemned the violence and those who instigated it.
“Although we are still learning more about the situation, I am horrified and disgusted beyond words by the reports of violence at a protest Monday night in Albuquerque,” Lujan Grisham said late Monday in a statement. “The heavily armed individuals who flaunted themselves at the protest, calling themselves a ‘civil guard,’ were there for one reason: To menace protesters, to present an unsanctioned show of unregulated force. To menace the people of New Mexico with weaponry — with an implicit threat of violence — is on its face unacceptable; that violence did indeed occur is unspeakable.”
Mayor Tim Keller reacted swiftly following the shooting, tweeting that the city would be “removing the statue until the appropriate civic institutions can determine next steps” in order to contain the public safety risk.
“The shooting tonight was a tragic, outrageous and unacceptable act of violence and it has no place in our city,” the mayor wrote in a statement. “Our diverse community will not be deterred by acts meant to divide or silence us. Our hearts go out the victim, his family and witnesses whose lives were needlessly threatened tonight.”
Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department, confirmed that one man had been shot and had been transported to University of New Mexico Hospital in critical but stable condition. He didn’t identify him.
Police Chief Michael Geier said in a statement that APD is “receiving reports about vigilante groups possibly instigating this violence.”
“If this is true, (we) will be holding them accountable to the fullest extent of the law, including federal hate group designation and prosecution,” he added.
The shooting occurred during a fight between a man in a blue shirt and people trying to pull down the statue. The man was pushed onto the street, and then protesters started advancing toward him, some threatening him. The man in the blue shirt pulled a can of pepper spray from his pocket and sprayed it.
At that point, the man in the blue shirt appeared to have pulled a gun and fired about five shots, wounding one person. The man who was shot appeared to have been one of the individuals advancing on the man in the blue shirt.
People ran for cover screaming.
“Somebody got shot,” several people yelled.
The victim lay in the middle of the intersection of 20th Street and Mountain. One man, an EMT acting as a protest medic, said he had been one of the first to approach the wounded man. He said he had been shot one time.
Hours earlier the protest had begun with a prayer and peaceful demonstration to remove the statue of “La Jornada” in front of the museum. About 300 gathered in Tiguex Park around 6 p.m., where indigenous activists and small-business owners gave speeches.
Following the speeches, demonstrators walked across the street to the sculpture in front of the museum, which was being protected by the New Mexico Civil Guard. That’s when things started to get more heated.
As people climbed on the statue and covered Oñate’s head with a green cloth, they led the group in chants and called for action to remove the statue.
The civilian militia group stood by and watched, and it wasn’t until someone brought out a pickaxe that they intervened and tried to take it away.
About 10 minutes later as the altercation escalated, the man in the blue shirt fell down and then was chased off. Gunfire erupted.
Gallegos said that APD’s Emergency Response Team was deployed following the shooting.
“Police used chemical irritants and flash bangs to protect officers and detain individuals involved in the shooting,” Gallegos wrote in an email. “The individuals were disarmed and taken into custody for questioning.”
Officers could be seen taking five or six men dressed in military fatigues into custody.
Following the shooting, tear gas and flash bangs, dozens of protesters remained, milling around the street as officers in riot gear formed a line blocking off Mountain for about an hour.
They made announcements for people on top of the roof at 20th and Mountain to come down.
As a handful of demonstrators let the air out of a Sunvan parked in the middle of the road, others urged people to stay peaceful and go home.
Eventually, at around 9:30 p.m., the crowd dispersed, but some promised to return to tear down the statue.