Dillon Mullan, Santa Fe New Mexican, October 12, 2020
What began Saturday as a three-day “occupation” of the Santa Fe Plaza by Native activists and their supporters culminated on Indigenous Peoples Day with protesters toppling a controversial war monument.
About 50 people used a rope and chains to bring the obelisk down.
Santa Fe police officers monitoring the scene Monday made at least two arrests following earlier incidents but left before the obelisk’s collapse as protesters swarmed around it.
Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber didn’t address the lack of police presence during a statement Monday evening broadcast live on Facebook, in which he condemned the destruction. In the late Monday news release, the city said two officers were attacked — six were on the Plaza at the time — and police made the decision to exit, then move forward to redeploy in the Plaza area.
Erected in 1866, the Plaza centerpiece, sometimes called the Soldiers Monument and constructed to honor to Civil War Union soldiers, has spurred several demonstrations in Santa Fe this year amid a nationwide call for racial justice.
Native activists and other protesters have long objected to a plaque on one side that said the obelisk was dedicated, in part, to “heroes” who died in battle with “savage Indians.”
Webber said just before a planned protest earlier in June that the monument’s removal from the public park was “long overdue.” Following a failed attempt by a state-contracted crew to take down the structure overnight on the eve of the protest, however, Webber had not moved forward to remove it.
The three-day Plaza occupation began Saturday afternoon. Activists, who said the event was loosely organized by several groups, set up signs around the obelisk. Some said they would stay until Webber removed the obelisk. Two protesters used bike locks to chain themselves to its base.
As another rally got underway around noon Monday on the Plaza Community Stage, a crew contracted by the city started constructing an extended barrier around the obelisk. Drumbeats in celebration of the holiday were drowned out by the sounds of drills and hammers.
The bottom of the structure already was encased in plywood after vandals struck earlier this year. The new barrier was intended to keep people from sitting on top of the monument’s base. Some protesters began to lie down on building materials to disrupt construction, prompting Santa Fe police to try to forcefully remove people. This drew more demonstrators to obstruct the construction crew and tear down a metal barrier around the obelisk.
Police then left the area, clearing the way for protesters to tear down the monument. Pulling in unison on a rope, they brought down the top two sections.
The small crowd on the Plaza erupted in cheers.
“It was a really emotional moment for me. For all that it represents, this type of monument shouldn’t exist,” Cipriana Jurado, 53, an Indigenous woman from Chihuahua, Mexico, said in Spanish.
“There is so much to celebrate here and in Latin America that existed before European culture,” she added.