On June 15, a man was shot in Old Town over the “La Jornada” (The Journey) sculpture in front of the Albuquerque Museum. The shooting occurred during a protest for the removal of the sculpture. The sculpture is a series of figures featuring a prominent figure leading the group dressed like a conquistador wearing a helmet and leading the group. Ever since the monument was erected, the lead figure has been presumed by many as being an monument to Juan de Onate de Salazar leading the conquistadors. It turns out, that is simply not true.
It has been reported by ABQ Reports that the shooting occurred when at least 3 of the protesters attacked a person who was walking away from them and he was struck in the head with a skateboard and the person attacked drew a gun,shot numerous times, with one shot hitting one of the protesters. The shot protester was rushed to the hospital and is listed in critical but stable condition. The link to the full ABQ Report is here:
There were 5 to 6 heavily armed New Mexico Civil Guard members present trying to “protect” the monument. In the wake of the shooting, the decision was made to take the monument down and on June 16 it was taken down. Days before, the Albuquerque Museum Board of Trustees voted to take the monument down in a meeting that was likely in violation of the open meeting act. The Museum Board of Trustees has no Hispanic members.
Links to news stories are here:
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham issued the following statement about the shooting:
“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 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.
“I am monitoring the situation; my administration is in touch with local officials; the individual who was injured is in my prayers, and I am thinking of their family and friends.
“Let me be clear: There is absolutely no space in New Mexico for any violent would-be ‘militia’ seeking to terrorize New Mexicans; and there is no space for violence of any kind on our streets and in our communities, or for any sort of escalation of reckless, violent rhetoric, no matter who strikes first. The instigators this evening will be rooted out, they will be investigated, and they will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
JUAN DE ONATE DE SALAZAR
Juan de Oñate y Salazar (1550–1626) was a Spanish conquistador from New Spain. Onate was an explorer, and colonial governor of the province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México in the viceroyalty of New Spain. Historians often refer to Onate as the person who “discovered” New Mexico when he was an explorer and was claiming the land on behalf of Spain. His exploration of the Southwest is well documented and his historical significance to New Mexico cannot be disputed and for that reason he is often memorialized. The problem is, he is also extremely controversial, especially with New Mexico Native Americans.
Oñate is known for the 1599 Acoma Massacre. Following a dispute that led to the death of 13 Spaniards at the hands of the Ácoma, including Oñate’s nephew, Oñate ordered the brutal retaliation against Acoma Pueblo. In an act that many consider genocide 800 to 1,000 Ácoma were killed and the Pueblo was leveled to the ground. About 500 Acoma survived the massacre and at a trial at Ohkay Owingeh, Oñate sentenced them to 20 years of slavery. In an act of sure cruelty and oppression, Onate ordered that all Acoma men over the age of 21 have their right foot cut off to impair them in order to prevent them from being able to run a way. Onate was eventually banished from New Mexico and exiled from Mexico City for 5 years. He was convicted by the Spanish government of using “excessive force” against the Acoma people. Even to this day, Oñate is a controversial figure in New Mexican history. Over the last 30 years, the right foot of sculptures of Onate is cut off as an act of protest.
IT’S NOT JUST A STATUE OF ONATE
Those who protest the work of art, even the peaceful ones, have a warped, ignorant and totally misplaced interpretation of what is depicted in the sculpture. It is a depiction of the epic journey of the first European colonists to the Southwest which were the Spanish who settled in New Mexico. The monument is entitled La Jornada (the Journey). La Jornada has nothing to do with just Onate. It was commissioned over 16 years ago and dedicated in 2004. The bronze sculptures were done by renown New Mexico artists Betty Sabo and Sonny Rivera. The series of figures and the sculpture do indeed reflect the diversity and our mixed cultures and were the product of months of extensive outreach and consensus built among Native Americans, the Hispanic community and organizations. The selection committee that awarded the commission to do the work of art to Sabo and Rivera included prominent Native Americans and Hispanics. The funds to commission the sculpture were voted on by the public.
The series of life size sculptures must be taken and viewed as one work of art. The life size figures include historian Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá, Father Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá who brough the Catholic faith to the State, Francisco de Sosa Peñalosa who was given control of “the royal standard” to rule, an ox cart to represent 83 wagons and carts of commodities brought by settlers, Doña Eufemia who was a revered and heroic women settler, a “Vaqueros-Knights-Explorer” sculpture who were the first cowboys, ranchers and farmers, various sculptures of breeding livestock brought to the state, a Shepherd carrying a sheep who brought the animals to sustain the travelers and a sculpture of a Native Americans representing Native American allies and sculptures of woman and children settlers.
A link for more information on the sculpture is here:
EMERGING PROTESTS OVER MONUMENTS
Another controversy is emerging across the country from the protests over the killing of African American George Floyd by a Minneapolis Police Officer. The controversy is the appropriateness of monuments or statues erected across the country to individuals or causes viewed as representing the oppression of African Americans, slavery and racism. In the deep south states, the monuments and statues to honor the civil war Confederacy Union and the confederate generals are being defaced with protesters wanting them torn down because they are viewed as memorials to slavery and racism.
To many, the confederate general statues are of traitors to the United States who fought the United States to allow the southern states to secede from the United States to allow those states to preserve and to continue with slavery. The Confederate red flag with a black “X” and stars is also being condemned as racist. Confederate flags are being removed from Southern State capital buildings. NASCAR is also prohibiting the confederate flags at its racing events.
Statues of explorer Christopher Columbus are being assailed because Columbus was involved in the slave trade. For decades, New Mexico has had its own version of such a movement embodied in sculptures and statues of Spanish Conquistador Juan de Oñate y Salazar.
TRUMP’S CALL TO ARMS
The rise of vigilantism throughout the country and in New Mexico is on the rise and President Trump is contributing to the toxicity. There is no doubt that President Trump promotes hostility, mistrust and violence and he thrives on it and enjoys it. Trump is incapable of understanding the anger and the frustration African Americans feel about the violence they have endured at the hands of law enforcement for so many years. He promoted violence when running for President, he does it at his rally’s and he is doing it again after the killing of George Floyd.
Trump has already begun a campaign of promoting civil disobedience during the pandemic by tweeting on April 17 “LIBERATE VIRGINIA and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”, “LIBERATE MINNISOTA!” There is nothing that would satisfy Trump supporters more than to blow up our democracy and simply watch as Trump enjoys while watching the country burn to the ground.
On Friday, May 29, President Donald Trump tweeted amid unrest in Minneapolis that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. Trump’s tweet was flagged by Twitter as violating rules against glorifying violence. The tweet was the same language used by a Miami police chief in 1967 who believed that violent protests should be met with deadly force. About 13 hours after Trumps Tweet, he took to Twitter again and to claim that he wasn’t suggesting the shooting of rioters. Instead, he said he was referring to gun violence that has been spurred by the unrest.
Soon after his telephone conference call with the country’s governors, President Trump declared himself “your president of law and order.” He went on to say:
“… If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them. … I am mobilizing all available federal resources, civilian and military, to stop the rioting and looting to end the destruction and arson and to protect the rights of law abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights … . “
Trump said he would call out and mobilize “thousands and thousands “ of soldiers to keep the peace.
When Trump says “I am mobilizing all available federal resources, civilian and military, to stop the rioting and looting to end the destruction and arson and to protect the rights of law abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights”, many of his supporters could easily take it to mean it as call for vigilantism.
HEARING THE CALL OF THE WILD
A call to vigilantism is not as far fetched as it sounds. In Albuquerque, it was reported on KUNM that on June 2, after hundreds of people demonstrated peacefully on and around the University of New Mexico campus armed militia men showed up along Central Avenue. According to the KUNM news report, minutes after organizers told protesters to head home, the Albuquerque Police Department radio dispatch indicated officers had seen men with long guns east of UNM.
Just west of campus, protesters came upon a group of at least 9 mostly white men on the side of the road, by a white cargo van, with body armor and assault style weapons. Several protesters were upset at the presence of the armed men . One Black Lives Matter protester was so upset that he cried out repeatedly “We have a peaceful protest! … Go home! Don’t ruin it!” Other protesters urged their fellow demonstrators to ignore the provocation and keep moving.
According to the KUNM report:
“The armed men said they were from the New Mexico Civil Guard and that they were there to protect people. The militia group has been recruiting people throughout New Mexico online since March, and made a showing at an Albuquerque anti-shutdown protest in late April. A post on their Facebook page, which features pro-Trump posts and people posing with yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” flags, said their members would “be protecting local businesses every night until Sunday” amid what they called “violent protests.”
The first night of peaceful protests in Albuquerque calling for justice for George Floyd turned to violence when another group of people showed up after the protesters left. A confrontation with APD resulted, with some vandalism, but the incident ended with no one injured and the group dispersed. All subsequent protests have been relatively peaceful.
APD DISCOURAGES VIGILANTISM
On June 4, after three nights of protests, the Albuquerque Police Department felt compelled to discourage anyone from acting as vigilantes. APD’s discouragement is directly related to several groups saying they have been going to the protests to try and ease tensions and to protect local businesses while armed from break-ins, vandalism and looting. APD said that while these groups have good intentions, they’re asking them to leave public safety in the hands of trained law enforcement professionals.
APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos put it this way:
“We don’t want outside groups no matter what they’re intentions are to go out and enforce laws … Even if they have good intentions to protect protesters or property, generally it’s a bad idea. It can actually make the job more difficult for police, it can escalate tensions with people who are out there.”
Although New Mexico is an open-carry state, and people are allowed to have guns, APD is asking anyone going to the protests to leave the firearms at home in order to avoid escalating tensions
UFC FIGHTER JON JONES
Monday June 1, it was reported that UFC fighter Jon Jones, along with a group of 10 others, joined the protesters to try to keep the protesters calm. According to Jones he did not want to see a repeat of the violence from Sunday night. Jones told KRQE News 13 he had talked to police officers about his intentions before attending Monday’s protesters. Jones told News 13:
“We’re here to try and protect the peaceful protesters and small businesses.”
APD said the meeting with Jones by APD officers was not department sanctioned. APD is investigating the incident. APD also says the officers who met with Jones’ group are not facing any disciplinary action at this time, but they’re still investigating.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
In Albuquerque, people showing up to peaceful protests bearing long rifles or any other kind of firearm under the guise of protecting the general public and businesses from violence, vandalism and looting need to be called what they are: vigilantes. They are trying to take the law into their own hands and holding themselves out as law abiding citizens when they are not and have evil intent. They must be be condemned in no uncertain terms. It needs to be made clear they have absolutely no business showing up armed to the hilt wearing military fatigues to peaceful protests. Such conduct only intimidates and antagonizes people which is the real intent of such militias.
No doubt self-appointed “citizen militias” and their supporters will argue they have second amendment rights to bear arms which is nothing but a rue and a convenient excuse to start trouble. Second Amendment advocates represented by citizen militias always ignore and seem to want to usurp people’s First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly, which many would say are rights far more important than their right to bear arms.
Albuquerque and New Mexico are a truly remarkable blend of ethnicity, cultures and traditions that we are proud of. It’s our diversification that is a major source of strength and a testament of how we work things out to get along. There are times in our history that was not always the case, but the passage of time promotes tolerance and understanding. During these very difficult times with the entire country on edge struggling with its history of racism and compounded by the pandemic, Albuquerque and New Mexico can be the best example how people of different cultures get along and interact with each other without racism and for that matter violence.
In the meantime, anyone born and raised in New Mexico, who is half Hispanic and half Italian whose grandparents were immigrants who came to New Mexico in 1900 no doubt will continue to struggle with the appropriateness of sculptures to both Columbus and Onate.