Monumental Fail

City drags feet on local monuments report trumpeted as making Santa Fe “a leader in racial healing"

Last November, former Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales released a list of local statues, markers and events commemorating figures and happenings in Santa Fe's history. It included nearly 100 entries in total, and was supposed to be the first step toward a definitive report to quell conflict over some of the region's ugly past.

City staff were tasked to digitally gather public comments on the list through the end of the year, and present its findings in a report to the City Council in early 2018. But that never happened, SFR has learned, because the city all but shelved it for months after it was supposed to be released.

The report, and the process that went into making it, was supposed to make Santa Fe "a leader in racial healing" that needed to take place across the nation, the former mayor said at the time. In August, nationwide uproar over Confederate statues came to a head in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white nationalists used the pretext of protecting a statute of Robert E Lee to attack anti-fascist protesters as police stood by. One protester, Heather Heyer, was killed at the event after 20-year-old neo-Nazi James Alex Fields Jr. plowed his car into the crowd.

Less than a month later, Santa Fe felt the reverberations of Charlottesville in the heavy-handed police response to protests against the Entrada pageant during Fiesta. Eight people were arrested at or near the protests, and the ACLU of New Mexico accused police of violating protesters’ civil rights by confining them to a so-called free speech zone.

Then-Police Chief Patrick Gallagher later told SFR that the free speech zone tactic and officers’ aggressive attempts to keep the two groups separated were heavily influenced by the fracas in Virginia.

With Fiesta less than two months away and a number of monuments to colonialism still standing all around the city, the effort is clearly behind schedule, and has the appearance of another grand solution announced in the midst of heightened scrutiny only to be forgotten after passions subside.

City spokesman Matt Ross insists this isn't the case. He says the change in mayoral administrations is to blame for the delay, and that Mayor Alan Webber's "tactical shift" in handling equity in the city shifted priorities elsewhere. He assures SFR that a final report of monuments and events will be released after it is presented to the City Council, but won't say when that might be.

"The mayor is focused on all sorts of different things in terms of tackling unity and inequity in Santa Fe," Ross says, including initiatives like Southside Summer, which is supposed to "promote [a] packed calendar of summer events outside of downtown."

“When he has a chance,” Ross continues, “he’ll read the report and get it out to public, but his immediate focus is how do we get out into the community, the Southside, [and] focus on what’s happening on the Southside that’s positive.”

As of now, the public list of memorials is still visible on the city's website, though the list of events, which included the Fiesta de Santa Fe, is currently a broken link.

One of the most prominent—and problematic—monuments in town is the obelisk in the center of the Plaza, which was erected in 1868 and honors Union soldiers in New Mexico who fought both Confederate "rebels" and "savage Indians" in the mid-19th century.

The first major push to remove the obelisk came in 1973, when members of the American Indian Movement submitted a letter to then-Governor Bruce King asking him to take it down. The City Council passed but then quickly rescinded a resolution for its removal; instead, a marker was added to "blunt the wording." The next year, an unknown person chiseled the word "savage" off the structure.

Later, in 2000, the executive committee of the NAACP's Santa Fe Chapter called for the obelisk to be removed, according to an above-the-fold article in The Santa Fe New Mexican. No actions were ever taken.

In the last year, unknown individuals have written the word "courageous" and "resilient" in black felt-tip marker where "savage" was chiseled out. And last fall, a man impaled himself on the spiked metal fence surrounding the obelisk after climbing it. A makeshift layer of thin wooden strips bound to the permanent fence has been there ever since.

Jan Snyder, assistant fire chief at the Santa Fe Fire Department, which responded to the impaling, could not confirm any details of the incident.

Ross, the city spokesman, is under the impression that in order for the city to fix the fencing around the obelisk, or even remove the obelisk altogether, it would have to coordinate with the National Parks Service because it's a national historic landmark.

But Steven Moffson, the state and national register coordinator at New Mexico's Registers of Cultural Properties, told SFR last year that the city could probably alter or remove the obelisk on its own without jeopardizing the Plaza's status as a national landmark.

“The Plaza is significant as an open public space,” Moffson says. “That’s its primary significance, and its association with earliest development of the city of Santa Fe. The obelisk came much later.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version referred to city spokesman Matt Ross as both that role and city manager. He is, in fact, the city’s spokesman. 

Editor’s note two: This story has been updated following the revelation that the Santa Fe Entrada is discontinued.

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