The protests are persisting.
A few hundred New Mexicans marched Saturday night from the Roundhouse through downtown Santa Fe and back in the name of defunding the police. While not to the extent that the demonstrators are demanding, the Santa Fe Police Department says it’s at least open to alternative forms of responding to crises beyond armed officers.
“This is an opportunity for all community partners and service providers to enter the discussion and collaborate on how we can all move forward with handling issues that could be resolved through an alternative response rather than considering the police as the only response available,” Deputy Chief Ben Valdez said Saturday afternoon. “This reimagining of a response protocol may not eliminate a police response, but it has the potential to improve the manner we all provide services to our community.”
While the wave of protests in Santa Fe and the nation began when George Floyd died at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer May 25, local officials have given activists plenty of motivation to march in recent weeks.
Outside India Palace, demonstrator Rasanjana Bhandari used a megaphone to criticize Santa Fe police for taking three hours to respond to the racist vandalism and destruction of the restaurant last week. Then Bhandari pointed out that while Steven Baca, who allegedly shot a protester in Albuquerque earlier this month, was released Monday, Clifton White, an African American who was arrested at a Black Lives Matter protest in Albuquerque earlier this month after allegedly violating his parole, remains inside the New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas.
“The state of New Mexico actively chooses to keep a Black man hostage when they perceive him as a threat, but a white man is free to attempt murder in defense of white supremacy wherever he pleases,” Bhandari told the crowd. “Our police and elected officials are saying they are comfortable with white supremacy.”
Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber was not available to comment Saturday afternoon on the degree to which the city has been discussing reallocating its resources away from the police and toward social services.
“No one is available for non-emergency issues,” city spokeswoman Lilia Chacon said in an email Saturday afternoon.
Over the past five years, the Santa Fe Police Department has received about a quarter of expenditures from the city’s general fund in each year’s budget.
Last spring, Webber and the City Council passed a budget that gave the police department around $24.7 million of the roughly $102 million appropriated from the city’s general fund. Meanwhile, community services such as libraries, senior services and support for youth programs received around $9 million.
“Our money needs to be directed towards the south side and its nationally unprecedented levels of child poverty,” said Artemisio Romero y Carver, a community organizer and rising senior at New Mexico School for the Arts. “In my experience, and the lived experiences of many others, that means you’re starving.”
The march, organized by local advocacy groups Walk the Talk, Democratic Socialists of America-Santa Fe, The Red Nation, Santa Fe While Black and Youth United for Climate Crisis Action, was a smooth operation with free water bottles, a team of medics, and cars and cyclists coordinating to block traffic ahead of those on foot.
At street corners and outside restaurants, passersby pulled out their phones to take pictures and videos while protest signs were reflected in the glass windows of high-end jewelry stores and art galleries.
“We’ve lived in a world where some of us have had the ability to check out. Certain white liberal parts of the population have the ability to check out,” Romero y Carver said. “After Donald Trump, after COVID-19 and after seeing videos of all these deaths at the hands of police, I don’t think you can be a caring, thinking human being and not know that something fundamentally has to change. And I do believe Americans have that capacity. We’re at a point where we have very little to lose given how much this country has already been lost.”