As soon as Santa Fe police officers abandoned the Plaza on a sad afternoon in October, cowards became emboldened.
Self-described demonstrators — ignorant of history and happy to remain that way — were free to break laws with impunity.
That's exactly what they did. A mob destroyed the Plaza's 152-year-old obelisk, crimes enabled by Mayor Alan Webber and his retreating police officers.
One injustice often leads to more of the same, and it's happened again in this case.
Only a handful of lawbreakers who damaged the obelisk were identified by prosecutors and charged with crimes.
Seven of eight defendants last week accepted soft plea bargains from District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies.
Those who violently destroyed public property and sent police fleeing will not spend any time in jail. They will be asked to perform some sort of community service.
Having been spared any real punishment, the Plaza vandals might be inclined to laugh at how they were allowed to abuse the obelisk and then the criminal justice system.
Most of them probably are smart enough to appease Carmack-Altwies by claiming the community should come together now to mediate any lingering disagreements after this unfortunate bit of mob violence.
Settling a criminal case in this weak, unjust style is what Carmack-Altwies and the Plaza criminals call "restorative justice."
Exactly what has been restored by the district attorney's deal-making?
Not the obelisk. The criminals defaced it with hammers and red paint, then tore down the upper portion. It's in pieces.
Webber once told me it's possible the obelisk could be put together again. His Humpty Dumpty claim carries a hollow but predictable ring.
Webber is running for reelection this year, and he hopes his pitiful leadership on the obelisk will be obscured by the plea bargains. The case is over, fairly resolved by the state, he will say. Time to move on.
We shall see if he makes the same statement when the next mob attacks City Hall or a minority-owned business, then seeks restorative justice on grounds of its distaste for tax rates or immigration policy.
How about public confidence in the Santa Fe Police Department? Will it be restored because of the district attorney's willingness to let criminals get off easy?
Hardly. The best police officers keep the peace. Webber's chief and command officers let lawbreakers rule the Plaza. Webber said abetting criminals was safer than confronting them.
Politics guided the mayor. Many of his ardent supporters viewed the obelisk as a racist symbol. They didn't want those who destroyed it treated as common criminals.
The messages the obelisk carried were mixed and more complicated than Webber's cohorts will ever acknowledge.
Three panels honored Union soldiers who stopped the Confederate Army's westward advance in New Mexico. It was a victory that helped end slavery.
Criminals who yanked, sprayed and smashed the obelisk didn't want to recognize that history. They spoke only of another panel of the obelisk that praised soldiers for warring against "savage" Indians.
Most everyone today finds that characterization wrong and repugnant, just as they view slavery to be cruel and indefensible.
The obelisk contained no singular, simple message on New Mexico history. Some of what it highlighted was an immoral war. Other sections gave a capsule summary of soldiers who helped set free Black people.
Vandals who wrecked the obelisk were a lot like people who want to ban books rather than encourage reading and critical thinking.
The criminals objected to part of what the memorial said, so they decided no one should ever see it or delve more deeply into the history it mentioned.
Webber and his police commanders were foolish in letting them decide what belongs in a public space — on a national landmark, no less.
Carmack-Altwies' plea bargain for the Plaza criminals doesn't serve the public interest. It is a good deal for the defendants, a rotten one for anyone concerned about fairness.
Still, one defendant, Stephen Fox, has rejected the deal. Fox claims to head a branch or office of the United Nations that, he says, has been established in Santa Fe.
For a time, Fox sought me out because he wanted publicity for his purported U.N. initiative.
He evaded each question when I pressed him for particulars on what authority he had to claim he was representing the United Nations.
His attempts at media manipulation typified that of the Plaza mob, whose approach goes something like this: Ignore any contradictions or holes in our story. Accept what we say as truth. Let us think for you and take power from you.
It worked. They're skating free as the learned district attorney claims restorative justice is served.