A 31-year-old man has been arrested over a shooting that happened as protesters in New Mexico’s largest city tried to tear down a bronze statue of a Spanish conquistador, police said.
The shooting occurred near a confrontation between demonstrators and a group of armed men vowing to protect the statue of Juan de Onate outside Albuquerque Museum, before protesters wrapped a chain around it and began tugging on it. One protester repeatedly swung a pickaxe at the base of the statue.
Moments later, gunshots rang out down the street and people shouted that someone had been shot.
The shooting on Monday night prompted the city to announce that the statue will be removed until officials determine the next steps.
Police said detectives arrested Stephen Ray Baca on suspicion of aggravated battery. Authorities had said earlier that several people had been detained for questioning.
Baca had been among those trying to protect the statue when protesters “appeared to maliciously pursue him”, according to a criminal complaint filed by police.
Video posted on social media showed protesters hitting him with what police described as a skateboard and punching him. Then he opened fire with a handgun.
After the shooting, other armed people encircled Baca in an apparent attempt to protect him, the video showed.
The man who was shot was taken to hospital and was listed in critical but stable condition late on Monday, said Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos.
Officers used tear gas and stun grenades to protect the officers who intervened and detained those involved in the shooting, Mr Gallegos said.
He said they were disarmed and taken into custody for questioning as police worked to secure the scene. He said detectives were investigating with the help of the FBI.
The shooting tonight was a tragic, outrageous and unacceptable act of violence and it has no place in our city. Our diverse community will not be deterred by acts meant to divide or silence us.
— Mayor Tim Keller (@MayorKeller) June 16, 2020
“The shooting tonight was a tragic, outrageous and unacceptable act of violence and it has no place in our city,” mayor Tim Keller said in a statement. “Our diverse community will not be deterred by acts meant to divide or silence us.
“Our hearts go out the victim, his family and witnesses whose lives were needlessly threatened tonight. This sculpture has now become an urgent matter of public safety.”
Democrat governor Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a statement saying the armed people were there to menace protesters, adding that there is no room in New Mexico for any sort of escalation of “reckless, violent rhetoric”.
“The instigators this evening will be rooted out, they will be investigated, and they will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” she said.
The violence came hours after activists in northern New Mexico celebrated the removal of another likeness of Onate that was on public display at a cultural centre in the community of Alcalde. Rio Arriba County officials removed it to safeguard it from possible damage and to avoid civil unrest ahead of a scheduled protest.
A forklift pried the massive bronze statue from a concrete pedestal. Cheers erupted among bystanders who viewed the memorial as an affront to indigenous people and an obstacle to greater racial harmony, though several people also arrived to defend the tribute to Onate.
The statues have been a source of criticism for decades.
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 is also reviled for his brutality.
To Native Americans, Onate is known for having ordered the right feet cut off of 24 captive tribal warriors that was precipitated by the killing of his nephew.