Plaza Obelisk Protest Ends Early

Protesters say they left when police threatened arrest, now controversial monument sits behind a barricade

With the mayor citing a Denver protest that turned deadly over the weekend, city police chased away a coalition of activists protesting the obelisk on the Santa Fe Plaza early Sunday night.  The city's official statement conflicts with how demonstrators say it went down, however.

Organizers had said the demonstration was originally meant to last through Monday, Indigenous Peoples Day in Santa Fe. Native organizers and non-Native allies took over the controversial monument on Saturday afternoon in protest of the obelisk after Mayor Alan Webber promised to remove it in June—a promise that was never fulfilled.

On Saturday and Sunday,  people took turns being chained to the midsection of the obelisk while others held signs, passed out fliers with information about why they were protesting and addressed passersby with informal speeches.

According to a call to action that made its way through social media in the days leading up to the planned three-day protest, there was no central leadership for the event outside of "Tewa, Indigenous Peoples and Accomplices."

By Sunday evening, Mayor Alan Webber's office released a statement saying Webber had approached the coalition more than once over the weekend, offering to engage in a dialogue if they'd agree to end the protest. The release also said the activists declined, but that Webber planned to approach them again.

"We respect the protesters' right to make their statement about historic wrongs against Native Americans," the statement reads in part. "At the same time, there is a limit to civil disobedience when the safety of the protesters or the public is at risk."

By 5 pm, the scene changed when an unidentified man carrying a Trump flag in one hand and with a young child on his shoulders aggressively approached protesters. SFR obtained video of that confrontation from a bystander:

According to one of the activists who engaged with the apparent Trump supporter, and who spoke to SFR anonymously, this marked a turning point. Shortly before 7 pm, they say, police and fire department personnel descended on the Plaza and started moving the large flower pots that cordon off Palace Avenue from traffic.

"A big truck towing a bunch of barricades came in first, and they started very quickly bringing [the barricades] into the Plaza," the protester explains. "I was looking to my right watching the firefighters bringing the barricades in. I was looking to my left, and there were literally 15 cops."

Shortly before 7 pm, the person says, they were approached by police who shoved and ultimately dragged them from the Plaza's center.

"I was pushed over and I hit both my knees—and I'm injured at the moment, so I hit one injured knee and a non-injured knee," they say. "They hollered at me to get up, said that I fell on purpose and then grabbed me very hard and started dragging me and shouting 'Why are you tensing up? Don't do that!' So I kept asking them 'Why are you doing this? What's the law? What's the ordinance?' There was no response other than 'You fell on purpose.'"

The protester says police then established a perimeter around the Plaza's center using crime scene tape, during which time they threatened to arrest anyone who approached the obelisk. The anonymous protester tells SFR police repositioned the perimeter several more times while threatening arrests; eventually, the demonstration scattered.

By 8:45 pm, the city released another statement framing the protesters' departure as voluntary.

"Today, an on-site team including Police negotiators, Chaplain, Police officers, and Fire Department members again interacted with the protesters," it reads in part. "The protesters were informed that they were violating the City code which prohibits criminal trespass and invited them to peacefully remove themselves. We are very thankful for the efforts of the on-site team for their successful negotiation with the protesters. We are also thankful to the protesters for peacefully removing themselves from the Obelisk."

Capt. Michael Champlin, listed as the weekend's Santa Fe Police Department on-duty commander, refused to answer questions about the incident and instead referred SFR to the city's later press release.

It's unclear if the activists plan to return to the Plaza on Monday, Oct. 12 for a final day of protest.

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.