RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Things were tense. They had been tense for months – some would say years.
But things got worse that September day when a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Rio Rancho was overtaken by agitated counterprotesters who apparently believed their lives and their opinions mattered more, the rising tension measured in shouts, spittle, angry glares and armed right wingers.
“All lives matter!” they yelled. “Go back where you came from!”
It was the last straw for Alexis Jimenez, who comes from Rio Rancho.
“I was so ashamed and angry at the city I’ve called home for 30 years that I felt I had to do something,” Jimenez, 60, said.
She started encouraging everybody she knew to register to vote. She took her message to the streets, waving a sign for about a half-hour each day at different intersections around the city.
“I went out alone a lot of those days,” she said. “But, as the election grew nearer, I had a pretty steady group of mostly older white women, and me and my daughter.”
As the days passed, she started including signs in support of such issues as early voting, a living wage and clean water. Nothing derogatory, she said.
Days before the election, she and the group added candidate signs. Biden. Harris. Local candidates they favored.
Those elicited jeers, middle fingers and thumbs down from some of the passers-by.
Still, they persisted.
And then, on Election Day morning, it happened.
According to a Rio Rancho Police report, Jimenez, still carrying her signs, was crossing in the crosswalk on High Resort SE at N.M. 528 when a white Nissan SUV pulled too far into the crosswalk and blocked Jimenez’s path.
“Ms. Jimenez advised she had words with the driver regarding her stopping in the crosswalk, at which time Ms. Jimenez advised the female driver nudged forward hitting her with the front of the vehicle on her right arm,” the report states. “Ms. Jimenez then advised she went to go behind the vehicle to take a photo of the license plate, at which time the driver put her vehicle in reverse, which made Ms. Jimenez believe she was going to hit her again.”
One witness told police the white SUV “lunged” toward Jimenez, hit her and then reversed toward her as she stood behind the SUV.
A 12-second video taken by another witness toward the end of the incident shows the driver angrily uttering words before driving off. Jimenez said she believes the driver said “I’m just damn tired of Democrats.” To my ears, I think I hear “Democrat” or “Democrats.”
The driver drove off before police arrived. Gone, too, was any obvious sign of injury to Jimenez.
Still, it felt like what was injured was civility. To Jimenez, it felt like what was injured was freedom of speech and her safety in this tense world.
“She hit what I call my wrist knuckle and there was barely a mark, but that wasn’t really the point,” she said. “The point was she felt free to assault me because of my sign.”
Police, though, didn’t see it that way.
An officer sent to the driver’s home found no evidence of the white SUV coming into contact with anybody or anything. Even the layer of dirt on the vehicle was not disturbed, according to the report.
With no physical evidence on the vehicle or Jimenez, officers declined to charge the driver.
“I can’t tell you how disappointed I am with the police,” Jimenez said.
So, I decided to find out more about the driver.
She is 63 and also a Rio Rancho resident. She told me that morning she was driving home and preparing to turn off High Resort when she crept too far into the crosswalk. A woman with a sign who had been on the sidewalk with others started yelling at her.
“She was saying I was in the crosswalk and I was telling her to just go around me,” she said. “I was upset that she was yelling at me. She had a bee in her bonnet.”
The woman said she doesn’t believe she struck Jimenez, nor did she back up to hit her. She doesn’t remember much about Jimenez’s signs, except that she recalls it had to do with water.
As for what she yelled before driving off, she said it was that she was “damn sick of dominatrix,” not Democrats.
“I am a Democrat,” she said. “I was angry that someone was trying to dominate me.”
It’s not surprising she would deny wrongdoing, other than driving into the crosswalk, I suppose. But listen to what else she said.
It has been a rough year, she said. She is still grieving the loss of her 92-year-old mother, who died Sept. 6, according to an obituary published in the Journal. Like many people, she and her husband are facing dire financial hardship. Court records indicate that they have struggled to make house payments after being socked with huge medical bills from her treatment for two strokes.
So, yes, she didn’t handle what happened that day in the crosswalk as well as she could have, she said. But it was not because of political tension.
“I’m just very stressed and I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m usually the least confrontational person, and I didn’t handle that confrontation well that day.”
Tension is real, folks. It has toughened us, made us leery or dismissive – or worse – of each other. Still, we have every right to demand that we be safe when we share our opinions and stand against that which we believe is oppression and hate. But I wonder if, in our zeal to speak our truths, there have been occasions when some folks are inadvertently caught in the crossfire.
It’s wholly plausible that Jimenez was attacked because of the vitriol she has seen and felt from the other side. It’s also plausible that the driver of the white SUV reacted to the stress of the moment and in her life in a way that has nothing to do with politics.
I am thankful that Jimenez was not badly hurt by whatever happened that day in the crosswalk. But it feels like something has been hurt badly, and I’m not sure we are anywhere near a way to heal that.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, email@example.com, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.