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SF mayor, police chief defend response to demonstration

Fernando Pina, with the city of Santa Fe’s Facilities Department, builds a box around the remains of the monument in Santa Fe’s historic Plaza that was knocked down by demonstrators during an Indigenous Peoples Day rally Monday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Not long before protesters tore down the historic obelisk in the Santa Fe Plaza on Monday, Santa Fe police commanders decided to put personal safety over property and backed away from the scene.

Santa Fe Police Chief Andrew Padilla said during a live streamed update Tuesday – where media was asked to submit questions in advance – that he stands by that decision after reviewing videos of the protest that resulted in two arrests.

At an Indigenous Peoples Day rally, Native American activists and their allies toppled a more than 150-year-old monument dedicated to Union soldiers that once bore a racist inscription and was considered a symbol of oppression by Native Americans and others.

The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office, FBI and the New Mexico State Police are collaborating with city police in the investigation. Padilla said the agencies would help SFPD with “rounding people up,” if needed.

“Had there been a threat to someone’s life in and around the obelisk, or the plaza, officers would have reengaged,” Padilla said.

The police chief said non-lethal weapons were not deployed during Monday’s demonstration, but one officer reported in a criminal complaint that he used a chemical agent in self-defense.

The obelisk’s jurisdiction is complicated, Mayor Alan Webber said during the same live update, and the city attorney’s office believes there is a local and federal jurisdiction overlap. The obelisk is owned by the city, but it and the Plaza are designated as a National Historic Landmark, which may affect how people are charged, the mayor said.

Webber said he agreed with Padilla’s decision and said there’s “no statue that’s worth one human life.”

Police had no intelligence indicating the protest would turn violent, Padilla said, and there were many peaceful protests at the Plaza over the summer. There were about six officers at the plaza when the protest first started, but as tensions escalated more officers were called to the scene.

Police used Fire Station 1 as a staging area for officers over concerns that protesters would destroy other parts of the city. Padilla said officers returned to the plaza later to secure the scene hours after protesters had left.

Webber said a resolution will be introduced during Wednesday’s City Council meeting, which he said focuses on how to address deep divisions in the community.

While the mayor included similar language in his June call to form a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he said Monday’s events brought a “heightened sense of urgency” and he encouraged “all sides” to come together.

“Stop the back-and-forth of who suffered more injuries over history … there’s more than enough pain for everyone,” Webber said. “There were atrocities on all sides – there (was) slavery on all sides.”

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