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Man shot in New Mexico at protest over statue of Spanish conquistador

By Fabrice Pierre-Toussaint

Staff Writer for Telegraph Local | See my LinkedIn

A man was arrested and charged with battery in Albuquerque, New Mexico, after a protester was shot during a demonstration over a statue of a Spanish conquistador. 

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Stephen Ray Baca, 31, was jailed on suspicion of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon Tuesday morning, per a statement from the Albuquerque Police Department.

Baca was among the armed counter-protesters trying to defend the statue Monday, according to a criminal complaint filed by police in connection with the charge lodged against Baca. It’s not clear whether he is affiliated with the New Mexico Civil Guard, an armed civilian militia that was present at the protest. Some of its members were detained after the shooting.

The victim, who has not been identified, is in “critical but stable” condition, according to a statement from Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos. 

Sources from USA Today state that protesters on Monday gathered in front of the Albuquerque Museum and called for the removal of a statue of conquistador Juan de Oñate, which was erected in the late 1990s. De Oñate is widely despised among Native American communities in New Mexico for his brutality and enslavement of indigenous people in the area.

“The shooting tonight was a tragic, outrageous and unacceptable act of violence and it has no place in our city,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement published on Twitter. “Our diverse community will not be deterred by acts meant to divide or silence us. Our hearts go out to the victim, his family and witnesses whose lives were needlessly threatened tonight. This sculpture has now become an urgent matter of public safety.”

The city later announced it would remove the de Oñate statue.

On Monday, protesters wrapped a chain around the statue of de Oñate, tugging around it in an effort to pull it down. One protester was reportedly seen hitting the statue with a pickax, while others were shouting “take it down.”

According to a criminal complaint filed by police, protesters “appeared to maliciously pursue him” by hitting him with a longboard skateboard and punching him.

Gallegos told the Associated Press that after the shooting, officers used tear gas and flash bangs to intervene and to detain Baca and the armed people who had surrounded him. 

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He said they were disarmed and taken into custody for questioning, and detectives were investigating with the help of the FBI.The presence of armed, far-right militia groups and counter-protesters at various Black Lives Matter rallies in Albuquerque has drawn scrutiny from protest organizers. A video of Albuquerque police speaking with counter-protesters, as well as a dispatch recording, per KUNM, in which an officer referred to armed civilians as “friendlies,” has also raised questions over police coordination.

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