A man was shot Monday evening at a demonstration where protesters planned to topple a conquistador’s statue in Albuquerque, New Mexico, authorities said.
The man, who has not been publicly identified, was taken to a hospital in critical condition, Albuquerque police said in a statement. There were no other reported injuries.
“We are receiving reports about vigilante groups possibly instigating this violence,” Albuquerque Police Chief Michael Geier said. “If this is true will be holding them accountable to the fullest extent of the law, including federal hate group designation and prosecution.”
A video of the protest appeared to show police holding multiple people on the street near the Albuquerque Museum, where protesters were planning to remove a statue of Juan de Oñate, NBC affiliate KOB reported.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether they were under arrest or were being detained. KOB reported that they belonged to an armed “civil guard” group.
“This is not the first report of heavily armed civilian militias appearing at protests around New Mexico in recent weeks. These extremists cannot be allowed to silence peaceful protests or inflict violence,” U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said Monday night on Twitter.
He also called on the Department of Justice to investigate.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she was “horrified and disgusted beyond words” by the violence.
“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,” she said in a statement.
Another video from the station showed several people tugging on a chain that had been lassoed around the statue while chanting “tear it down.” At the end of the video, several shots can be heard, although it isn’t clear whether the sounds are gunfire.
Officials used tear gas and non-lethal projectiles in an attempt to push back the protesters.
“This sculpture has now become an urgent matter of public safety. In order to contain the public safety risk, the City will be removing the statue until the appropriate civic institutions can determine next steps,” the mayor said late Monday.
The Oñate statue has been a source of criticism for decades.
Oñate, 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, Oñate is known for having ordered the right feet cut off of 24 captive tribal warriors that was precipitated by the killing of Onate’s nephew. In 1998, someone sawed the right foot off the statue — an incident that weighed in the decision to stash away the statue.
Monuments to European conquerors and colonists around the world are being pulled down amid an intense re-examination of racial injustices in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police.