This time it wasn’t a fight over a statue of a Confederate soldier. It wasn’t Christopher Columbus. It wasn’t even one of the white, European slaveholders from early in our country’s history. No, it seems that we are now fighting over statues of… Spanish Conquistadors? In Albuquerque, New Mexico, a group of demonstrators arrived at the Albuquerque Museum to protest the presence of a large, bronze statue of Juan de Oñate, a conquistador who led Spaniards up from “New Spain” into present-day New Mexico in 1598.
When they arrived, however, they were met by lawfully armed members of the New Mexico Civil Guard, a civilian group. They had arrived to protect the statue from damage and the group included a number of Hispanic residents who said they honored Juan de Oñate’s contributions to establishing a Spanish-American presence in the region. Before long, following the playbook of other protests, the demonstrators had affixed chains to the statue and one man began attacking it with a pickax. While police were focused on the activity in the immediate vicinity of the statue, a little further down the street shots began to ring out and one person went down, though they are expected to recover. (Associated Press)
A man was shot Monday night as protesters in New Mexico’s largest city tried to tear down a bronze statue of a Spanish conquistador outside the Albuquerque Museum, prompting the city to announce that the statue would be removed until officials determine the next steps.
The man was taken to a hospital and was listed in critical but stable condition late Monday, said Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos.
A confrontation erupted between protesters and a group of armed men who were trying to protect the statue of Juan de Oñate before protesters wrapped a chain around it and began tugging on it while chanting: “Tear it down.” One protester repeatedly swung a pickax at the base of the statue.
I’ll just confess upfront that I had to go Google who Juan de Oñate was because I’d never heard of him. But his identity and heritage do clearly seem to play a role in this story. More on that in a moment.
Albuquerque’s Democratic Mayor Tim Keller was quick to issue a statement blaming the New Mexico Civil Guard. He also described the statue as now being “an urgent matter of public safety.” Democrat Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham similarly blamed the Civil Guard, calling them “instigators” and promising to “root out” those responsible and punish them to the fullest extent of the law. At least one arrest was made, so it sounds as of the police think they’ve identified who was doing the shooting.
If there’s anything surprising about this story it’s the fact that it took this long for somebody to get shot at one of these demonstrations (besides the police, that is). While some people are clearly showing up to legitimately protest, almost all of these crowds include people bringing chains, tools, and occasionally Molotov cocktails. If counterprotesters show up in opposition to their goals and they are lawfully armed, when the conflict begins to escalate, something like this was bound to happen eventually. That doesn’t excuse whoever resorted to violence first (and the reports give us no indication of who did that in this case), but you just knew this was going to happen at some point.
As I mentioned above, however, the racial profiles and general nature of the groups involved in these spiraling incidents of unrest have really begun to morph. When these incidents were still ostensibly just about the death of George Floyd we saw Black Lives Matter groups – including people of all races – marching and decrying the police. The unrest quickly spread to some of the traditional targets, including Confederate symbology, with primarily white counter-protesters opposing them from the other side. And then indigenous Native American groups were protesting colonialism. Last night that group joined with others to confront supporters of Hispanic conquistadors. Is anyone else beginning to have a hard time figuring out precisely who is fighting against who at this point?
It hasn’t been this bad out in the streets on a national level since the 60s and early 70s. Back then, things also turned ugly on many occasions, but eventually, the elected officials who are charged with maintaining order and upholding the law were able to bring things under control. Today, however, we’re seeing frightened mayors and governors being so quick to forgive those who wind up rioting and talking about how they “understand” their position, that putting an end to the violence is going to be a much larger challenge. But they’re going to have to figure out a way to do it or we’re going to have full-blown combat zones on our hands in a lot of American cities.