A man is in critical condition after gunfire broke out at a protest in the United States, sparking panicked scenes and a swift response from police.
Dozens of demonstrators gathered in Albuquerque, New Mexico today to demand the removal of a statue of Juan de Onate, a Spanish conquistador who was the area’s repressive colonial governor in the 16th century.
He is best known for ordering the brutal Acoma Massacre in 1599, in which 800 people – including women and children – were killed.
Twenty-two years ago, on the 400-year anniversary of New Mexico’s founding, protesters cut off the right foot of a different Onate statue. Today they wanted to get rid of the whole thing.
The demonstrators first held a knife to the Onate’s throat and simulated slitting it. Then they tied a chain around the statue and attempted to pull it down.
While that was happening, part of the crowd turned its attention to an unidentified man in a blue T-shirt, who appeared to be arguing with the group.
One protester hit the man with a skateboard. He reacted by retreating a short distance down the street, stopping to briefly gesture back at the crowd before walking away.
Video footage of the incident, obtained by the local TV station KOB 4 Eyewitness News, shows a protester yelling: “Get his licence plate. Follow him.”
A second person can also be heard telling the man in the blue shirt to “get the f*** out”.
Then, several protesters chase him down and tackle him to the ground. A scuffle ensues, causing a sudden panic.
“He’s gonna f***ing kill you. He’s gonna f***ing kill you. Run!” the first voice shouts, as gunshots ring out. The crowd, including the cameraman, then starts to sprint away, as screams ring out.
The shooting itself cannot be seen in the footage, though the man in the blue shirt can be seen brandishing a gun.
Police responded quickly, using flash bangs to help them clear the area.
One man had been shot. That person was taken to hospital, and is now in critical but stable condition.
The man in the blue shirt was taken into police custody in handcuffs, along with several members of a right-wing militia who were present at the scene with military-style rifles.
Reporters on the ground said they were part of a group that calls itself the New Mexico Civil Guard, which has been attending multiple protests in recent weeks.
“Albuquerque police intervened this evening with its Emergency Response Team after an individual shot another individual during a protest in Albuquerque’s Old Town,” the local police department said in a statement.
“Police used chemical irritants and flash bangs to protect officers and detain individuals involved in the shooting. The individuals were disarmed and taken into custody for questioning.
“At this time, additional police teams have been deployed to ensure all officers can safely end the situation. Albuquerque Police Department investigators are also on standby.”
The department said it would release more information when it became available, but the investigation was in its “preliminary stages” and there would likely be no more news until the following day.
It said the FBI was helping investigators as they interviewed ”individuals who were involved in the shooting”.
And Police Chief Michael Geier specifically addressed the reported involvement of the right-wing militia group.
“We are receiving reports about vigilante groups possibly instigating this violence. If this is true, we will be holding them accountable to the fullest extent of the law, including federal hate group designation and prosecution,” Chief Geier said.
Back at the scene, frustrated protesters punctured the tires of a police van.
One woman vented to KOB 4 reporter Megan Abundis, accusing the police of treating the protesters, rather than the militia members, “like criminals”.
“I’m upset that right now, a man was shot by armed, white militia, and the police have arrived, and they have not interviewed any of us that are witnesses. They have not asked for any photos or videos,” the woman said.
“I mean, the police are not interviewing us. They tell us they need us to move, because it’s a crime scene. If it’s a crime scene there are like 50 witnesses, and yet the police are not interviewing us. They’re treating us like the criminals, even though they just arrested the armed, white militia guys.
“I don’t understand why. They’re treating us like criminals.”
She said she did not personally know the man who was shot, but she knew his name was Scott, and was “worried for him”.