Police have not released any information about the suspected shooter or said whether they believe he has any connection to the armed militia.
The gunshots, which left one man in critical but stable condition, have set off a cascade of public outcry denouncing the unregulated militia’s presence and the shooting, although police have yet to announce an arrest or describe exactly what happened. The victim is also unidentified.
The Albuquerque Journal newspaper reported that the shooting erupted during a clash between protesters trying to pull down a statue of Juan de Onate, and several heavily armed members of a civilian militia group called the New Mexico Civil Guard.
The confrontation occurred outside the Albuquerque Museum in the heart of the city’s Old Town district.
“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,” New Mexico Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement.
“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.”
Albuquerque Democratic Mayor Tim Keller said the statue would now be speedily removed as an “urgent matter of public safety” until authorities determine a next step.
The militia, which identified itself to a New York Times reporter covering the protest on Monday, has a controversial history. The right-wing group has repeatedly shown up at Black Lives Matter protests in recent weeks with guns and militarylike garb.
On Facebook, the group has shared materials encouraging people to arm themselves, promoted military training on infantry tactics and “ambushing,” and shared multiple posts opposing the leveling of monuments to Confederate figures in the South and Oñate in New Mexico. Members of the group recently told the Eastern New Mexico News that their aim was to protect businesses from damage during protests. They claimed they had been in contact with police and were following guidance given to them by officials.
According to the Journal’s account, one man involved in a physical altercation with the protesters appeared to draw a gun and fire five shots after he was pushed onto the street, sending members of the crowd scurrying for cover as one person yelled, “Somebody got shot.”
Video footage posted to social media from the scene appeared to show one man lying on the ground as several other people tried to render assistance.
A separate clip showed three men lying face down and spread eagled on the pavement as police in riot gear stood over them, apparently making arrests. Another officer appeared to be on the ground as well.
Anti-racism protesters venting anger over last month’s death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, have taken to destroying statutes honouring the US Civil War’s Confederacy, as well as sculptures of imperialists, conquistadors and other historical figures associated with subjugation of indigenous populations around the world.
The statue at the centre of Monday’s protest in Albuquerque is part of a controversial sculpture called La Jornada, which depicts Onate, known for the 1599 massacre of a pueblo tribe, leading a group of Spanish settlers into what is now New Mexico.
Earlier, another statue of Onate was removed from public display at a cultural centre in Alcalde, northern New Mexico, to safeguard it from possible damage and avoid civil unrest, hours before scheduled protests at the memorial.
The Red Nation advocacy group for Native American rights was planning a protest to urge authorities to remove the statue from outside the heritage education centre. It has been a source of criticism for decades.
Monuments to European conquerors around the world are being pulled down amid an intense re-examination of racial injustices in the wake of the death of African American man George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.
Onate, who arrived in present-day New Mexico in 1598, is celebrated as a cultural father figure in communities along the Upper Rio Grande that trace their ancestry to Spanish settlers. But he’s also reviled for his brutality.
To Native Americans, he is known for having ordered the right feet cut off of 24 captive tribal warriors after his soldiers stormed Acoma Pueblo’s mesa-top “sky city”. Onate’s order was precipitated by the killing of his nephew. In 1998, someone sawed the right foot off the statue – an incident that weighed in the decision to stash it away.
Elena Ortiz, a Red Nation organiser in Santa Fe with family ties to indigenous Ohkey Owingeh Pueblo, said conquistadors including Onate were symbols of violence and detracted from efforts towards mutual aid and support.
“This is an issue of colonisation and the elevation of these individuals — conquerors and conquistadors — into heroes when they were murderers,” Ortiz said. “This is a universal issue.”
Titled La Jornada, the sculpture depicts Onate leading a group of Spanish settlers to what was then the northernmost province of New Spain in 1598. The artwork includes an indigenous guide, a priest, women settlers and soldiers. The names of the families who accompanied Onate are listed on plaques below as part of the “Wall of Spanish Ancestral Heritage”.
La Jornada is one of two installations on museum property that reflect part of New Mexico’s history, city officials said. The other by New Mexico artist Nora Naranjo Morse of Santa Clara Pueblo is meant to be a place of solace and reflection that was commissioned as a response to the caravan artwork.
Reuters, AP, Washington Post