Not-So-Peaceful Protest

Santa Fe City Council dismayed at destruction of obelisk, assault and injury of two police officers

Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber convened an emergency City Council meeting Monday night to discuss events that took place earlier in the day when protesters tore down a controversial obelisk at the center of the Santa Fe Plaza.

The monument was dedicated to Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War, and in the Indian Wars against "savage Indians," a plaque on one side originally read.

“It’s both sad, tragic, and very disappointing that people have taken the law into their own hands and taken a giant step backwards in bringing more peace to our community,” Webber said, describing the event as a “violent demonstration.”

Webber said protesters assaulted two police officers at the scene. Both officers were tackled to the ground and sustained minor injuries, he said.

He then gave a brief overview of the course of events:

Protesters arrived at the Plaza on Saturday night, he said, and two of them chained themselves to the obelisk. That evening Webber went and spoke with them, offering protesters a meeting to talk about their concerns. The protesters declined and expressed their intention to stay at the monument through Monday, which was Indigenous Peoples Day. Police, members of the fire department and the protesters stayed overnight at the monument.

On Sunday, said Webber, police informed the protesters that they were criminally trespassing and "invited them to leave peacefully." A large group gathered on the Plaza on Sunday afternoon but by the evening they had packed up their tents and signs and dispersed.

"That conversation was very respectful and peaceful," said Webber.

(Note: That's not what some participants said happened when they were asked to leave. Read SFR's story from Sunday night here.)

Police put up a barrier around the obelisk Sunday night and stationed multiple officers at the scene.

On Monday morning, the Plaza was relatively deserted save for several police officers and city workers who were there to fortify the plywood structure set up around the monument.

The tone changed quickly by midday, when a group of protesters returned and began tearing down the gating around the obelisk and throwing it at the workers, said Webber. The officers on the scene stepped in to escort the workers to safety, he said, at which point protesters assaulted two officers and tackled them to the ground.

"The protesters overcame the police and mounted the obelisk and proceeded with tools and equipment they had brought to tear it to the ground and destroy it in its entirety," Webber said.

The mayor said police made several arrests. A statement the city issued after 9 pm Tuesday night identified two me: Dylan Wrobel, 27, charged with battery on a peace officer and resisting an officer; and Sean Sunderland, 24, charged with resisting an officer and criminal trespass.

"The Police Department had no intelligence or information that would have led them to believe the demonstration would become destructive or violent. The Police Department has consistently maintained a protocol that values life over property," the statement read. "Having seen other demonstrations around the country turn violent and lead to serious injury or loss of life, the police used that protocol in this situation. A handful of individuals became destructive. Two officers were attacked and all officers exited the Plaza, gathered resources, collaborated with New Mexico State Police and the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office, and then moved forward to re-deploy to the Plaza area.  Tonight the remaining pieces of the obelisk were gathered and will be stored in a safe location."

All the members of the City Council expressed dismay at the destruction of the obelisk and frustration that the city had not acted more decisively on the declaration Webber made in June to "call for the obelisk located in the Santa Fe Plaza to come down" and to create a "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" to bring people from all different backgrounds together to discuss Santa Fe's sometimes painful history.

“It’s really disheartening, this is not who we are. I have to believe that some of what happened today is the result of the times we are living in…There is no shortage of things that are causing us angst,” said Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth.

“I think people desperately want to speak and be heard. We have been focusing all of our energy on the global pandemic. We need to focus on a process that gets us moving forward in phases,” she continued, noting that the first phase for the reconciliation committee needs to involve giving people the chance to tell their stories.

"These last four months, I think we've missed a lot of opportunities," Councilor Mike Garcia agreed.

City staff who have been investigating the legal jurisdictions over the obelisk clarified that the monument is city property but that state and federal authorities have jurisdiction over whether the monument may be altered or removed.

Several councilors agreed that the city should refrain from formally declaring the course of events or sanctioning individuals involved until the governing body has the chance to review the police footage captured by solar powered camera towers stationed at the scene.

“It’s unfortunate that the importance of Indigenous Peoples Day gets lost in the events of today,” said Councilor Renee Villarreal.

“I want everyone, not just us, to step back and try to find out more details about who and what are we going to blame for this and not just make assumptions,” Villarreal continued. “Really I guess they can blame all of us, if they want to start somewhere, because we are elected officials that have a responsibility to try to figure out some of the deepest and hardest of issues.”

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