A man was shot and wounded outside the Albuquerque Museum last night during a protest over a statue of New Mexico’s 16th-century colonial governor, Juan de Oñate. As one group attempted to take down the massive bronze, a scuffle ensued with defenders of the statue, and four shots were fired. Armed members of the New Mexico Civil Guard, a right-wing militia, had infiltrated the protest, reports say.
Albuquerque mayor Tim Keller condemned the violence and had the statue removed this morning, kept in storage “until the appropriate civic institution can determine next steps.” Video footage shows city crews taking down the conquistador’s statue while a crowd of onlookers cheers in the background.
A suspect, 31-year-old Stephen Ray Baca, has been arrested in connection with the shooting, and several members of the independent militia group have also been taken into custody, according to KOB. The victim remains in critical but stable condition.
In a statement, New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said that she was “horrified and disgusted” by the incident. “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,” she added.
The statue of was part of the sculptural group “La Jornada,” which depicts Oñate leading a band of Spanish settlers from Ciudad Chihuahua in Mexico to the then northernmost province of New Spain (presently New Mexico) in 1598. It was commissioned as a public works project in the 1990s and is one of the latest monuments to cause uproar over its glorification of the brutal conquest of Native lands.
In light of the Black Lives Matter movement and nationwide protests following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police, calls to remove symbols of racist violence — from the Mississippi state flag, which still features the Confederate banner, to Christopher Columbus statues in Florida, Minnesota, and elsewhere — have grown louder.
According to Ralph Arellanes Sr., president of the Hispano Round Table of New Mexico, however, “La Jornada” presents a diverse group of figures on a journey to New Mexico and was created “with equal input from Native American leaders and Hispano leaders.” In a Facebook post, he argued that the grouping also includes a work by Native American artist Nora Naranjo-Morse, and that the statue’s removal would be “a violation of an agreement by the City of Albuquerque, the Native American community and the Hispano community.”
On Monday, authorities had removed another statue of Oñate located in the town of Alcalde in New Mexico. A petition circulating a few days earlier to remove the sculpture of the conquistador, notorious for his bloody killings of Native Americans and convicted by the Spanish for excessive violence, garnered around 3,000 signatures.
Rio Arriba County Manager Tomas Campos told local newspaper The Journal that the commission will solicit public opinion on how to move forward with the statue of Oñate removed from the Albuquerque Museum.