A demonstrator at a peaceful protest in Albuquerque demanding the removal of a statue of a controversial Spanish conquistador was shot by a right-wing militia group member on Monday night.
The militia group, whose members appeared at the event carrying semiautomatic rifles and wearing other tactical gear, calls itself the New Mexico Civil Guard. They had come to the protest in order to protect the statue of “La Jornada,” better known as Juan de Oñate, a conquistador who in 1599 had decimated a village of Indigenous people in the territory that became New Mexico.
Only 200 individuals from a village of 2,000 survived the onslaught of Oñate’s forces in what is known as the Acoma Massacre. Indigenous men who survived had one foot amputated and were enslaved for 20 years after the event. Children were captured, and sent off to be raised by missionaries, with many likely becoming enslaved themselves. On the 400th anniversary of that incident, Native activists cut off the right foot of a bronze Oñate statue installed on that occasion in Alcalde, New Mexico.
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As protesters engaged in a peaceful demonstration against the statue of Oñate, one took out a pickaxe. Members of the New Mexico Civil Guard responded, and that’s when tensions escalated, according to reporting from The Albuquerque Journal.
A scuffle broke out, and a man in a blue shirt, who appeared to have engaged in violence against protesters earlier, fell to the ground. Demonstrators confronted the man, who then pulled out pepper spray from his pocket. After that, he pulled out a gun, firing five bullets toward those confronting him, hitting a single man. That individual is currently in serious but stable condition, The Washington Post reported.
According to the group’s Facebook page, which appears to have been removed or made private since the event took place, the New Mexico Civil Guard aims to be an organization that provides “rapid local lawful response to emergency and dangerous situations, including Natural disaster, humanitarian crisis, civil disturbances, and civil [defense].” Many of its members are former military and/or law enforcement personnel.
O’Rion Petty, the local group’s captain, claimed last week that members would use non-lethal force against protesters at demonstrations taking place in the city, resorting to violence only when they deemed it necessary.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham criticized the group’s presence at the event, and their use of violence and intimidation against protesters.
“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,” the governor said 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.”
In a series of tweets late Monday, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller responded to the shooting by announcing the statue would be removed from its current site.
“Our hearts go out [to] the victim, his family, and witnesses whose lives were needlessly threatened tonight. This sculpture has now become an urgent matter of public safety,” Keller wrote. “In order to contain the public safety risk, the City will be removing the statue until the appropriate civic institutions can determine next steps.”