Attendees help a man who was shot and wounded during clashes between protesters trying to pull down a statue of Juan de Onate and armed members of civilian militia group New Mexico Civil Guard in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S. June 15, 2020, in this still image obtained from a social media video. Courtesy of Fight For Our Lives/Social Media via REUTERS
(Reuters) – Albuquerque police have arrested a former city council candidate and charged him on Tuesday with shooting and critically injuring a protester in a group that was calling for the removal of a statue of a Spanish conquistador, local press reported.
Stephen Ray Baca, 31, was booked into a city jail on a charge of aggravated battery in the shooting, which occurred on Monday, Albuquerque Police Department spokesman Gilbert Gallegos told the Albuquerque Journal.
Baca was not immediately available for comment. It was not clear whether he was connected with a group of heavily armed counterprotesters who identified themselves as a civilian militia called the New Mexico Civil Guard.
The shooting victim, identified as Scott Williams, was in critical condition after being shot several times in the torso, the newspaper reported. Police could not be reached for further comment.
“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 Gov. 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.”
Anti-racism protesters angered by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, have tried to topple sculptures of imperialists, conquistadors and other figures associated with subjugation of indigenous peoples.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said the Oñate statue would be removed to “contain the public safety risk.”
Another statute of the colonial governor was removed on Monday from Alcalde, about 100 miles north of Albuquerque.
Seen by some as a hero who led the Spanish colonization of New Mexico, Oñate is reviled by others as a killer who enslaved the ancestors of Native Americans and ordered men over 25 to have one foot cut off after an uprising at Acoma Pueblo.
Reporting By Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by David Gregorio