A caravan of cars gathered in front of the governor’s mansion Friday to demand the release of additional information in the fatal police shooting of Rodney Applewhite, an unarmed Black man who was killed during a traffic stop last month near Los Lunas.
“The community has a right to know what happened to Rodney,” said Selinda Guerrero, who belongs to the groups Building Power for Black New Mexico and Millions for Prisoners New Mexico. “We have a right to know, and transparency has not happened yet. [New Mexico State Police] have not revealed what happened to Rodney on the side of that rural highway.”
Applewhite, 25, was driving from Indiana to Arizona to visit family for Thanksgiving when he was pulled over by state police Nov. 19.
Police said in an initial news release that officers attempted to conduct a traffic stop, but Applewhite fled. A short time later, police caught up to Applewhite and attempted to take him into custody, which resulted in a scuffle and “at least one” gunshot that left Applewhite dead, police said.
Applewhite’s family said they were not contacted until at least nine hours after the shooting and had not received any additional information in the two weeks following.
That was the only information made available until Friday, when, as protesters’ vehicles snaked around Calle Estado to the governor’s mansion, state police issued a second news release with a new narrative on the shooting.
According to the second release, officers approached Applewhite as he stood in the middle of Manzano Expressway following the pursuit. Police said Applewhite “kneeled on the ground and made the symbol of a gun with his right hand.”
Applewhite told police, “You can cuff me,” while telling a second officer not to approach, according to the second release.
Applewhite went for a sergeant’s gun and attempted to pull it from the holster, police said.
State police Officer Gene Gonzales fired two rounds at Applewhite “in an attempt to stop the attack on the sergeant,” striking him twice, police said.
Applewhite died at a hospital in Albuquerque.
Around 7:30 a.m. on the day of the fatal shooting, the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office received a call from a homeowner about a burglary on Pueblitos Road in Belen, police said. The homeowner confronted the man, who asked, “Is this my house?”
After being told no, the man asked if the home was in South Bend before being told to leave. Applewhite matched the description of the man and his vehicle, according to the release.
Guerrero, the protester, said in a phone call a few hours after the demonstration that the timing of the release was “deliberate,” while calling for state Attorney General Hector Balderas to open an investigation.
“We’re very saddened by state police’s response,” Guerrero said. “In particular that they would lead with the headline that says ‘suspect.’ We understand that narratives such as this are intended to devalue our lives. We are even more disheartened that there is no indication of them taking responsibility or even a suggestion that a transparent investigation would happen.”
Friday’s protest began in Albuquerque in the parking lot of Cliff’s Amusement Park before leading a small caravan up Interstate 25 to Santa Fe. Demonstrators met at the DeVargas Center to decorate vehicles, make signs and prepare to drive to the governor’s mansion.
Building Power for Black New Mexico and Millions for Prisoners New Mexico organized the Santa Fe leg of the protest along with Free Them All Friday, as well as other activist groups who held demonstrations in Indiana and Arizona. All of the demonstrations were livestreamed on Zoom.
Sarah Byrden of Santa Fe said she felt “incredible sadness and disgust” after hearing about Applewhite’s death.
“It’s embarrassing,” Byrden said. “It is totally embarrassing. To hear that it happened, but how it has been handled on top of that in the first place feels like a failure. It feels completely tone [deaf] to what is happening across the country.”