Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber condemned the actions of activists and other community members who brought the Plaza obelisk tumbling down with ropes and chains on Indigenous People’s Day on Monday.
“The violence and damage to a historic monument in the middle of our Plaza will not help our community come together when we most need to do so,” the mayor said Monday in a live video statement on Facebook.
“Those who took this action have broken the law and they’ve broken trust,” Webber added. “It leaves an ugly mark on our community and should be condemned by all who are about the peace and well being of the city of Santa Fe.”
The mayor did not address what was an apparent lack of police presence at the time the monument was being dismantled. They had been on the scene earlier.
But in a late Monday news release, the city said six officers had been on the scene and two were attacked. According to the news release, the police department had no intelligence that led it to believe the demonstration would become violent.
“The Police Department has consistently maintained a protocol that values life over property,” the statement said. “Having seen other demonstrations around the country turn violent and lead to serious injury or loss of life, the police used that protocol in this situation.”
Santa Fe city councilors also expressed disapproval of the manner in which the obelisk was dismantled, both in interviews and during an emergency City Council meeting convened hours after the obelisk was felled.
Several said the city should have acted earlier to prevent people from taking the matter into their own hands, and said they had not been privy to any discussion about how the police department should have responded.
City Councilor Renee Villarreal, who represents District 1, which includes the Plaza, said in a telephone interview she was “shocked and saddened” by Monday’s events.
“I think this is a terrible way for the obelisk to come down regardless of how people felt about it,” she said. “Me and my colleagues do not condone the destruction of public property and it’s really terrible the way this played out.”
Villarreal said the mayor had not acted quickly enough to form a committee to discuss the fate of the obelisk after it became a flashpoint for unrest in June.
But she added, “We can’t blame one person; we are all to blame.”
Villarreal said she didn’t know what direction, if any, the mayor gave police about how to respond to the unauthorized demolition of the monument, but she said officers should have been there.
“There should have been a clear police presence for the safety of the people,” she said. “They needed to be there, and I don’t know what happened there. That was a failure on the city’s part.”
Villarreal said during the emergency council meeting that she wanted to view footage from the city’s surveillance cameras to see for herself what transpired Sunday night and Monday, rather than being told what happened.
It was unclear Monday what the city councilors knew and when they knew it.
District 3 City Councilor Chris Rivera said he spoke to Webber around noon, just before the crowd pulled down the first of three segments of the stone monument.
“I was told by the mayor it was somewhat violent and he advised us to stay away,” Rivera said, adding he also had no information about what, if anything, Santa Fe police had been instructed to do.
“I’m a lifelong resident of Santa Fe, and I’m a little upset they went to this extreme,” said Rivera. “I think there are more peaceful way to try to accomplish what you want without defacing public property or really being aggressive towards another group of people that also live in this town.
“I get the fact that maybe history isn’t quite written the way they feel it should have been or the way it actually did happen,” Rivera said. “But there are other, more peaceful ways to get your voice heard.”
Rivera said he would have liked to have seen the monument stand unaltered and advocated for another monument in a form that a committee of community representatives could have agreed upon.
“This was, from what I saw, maybe the work of 50, 60, 70 people, which I don’t think really represents the community, and I’m not even sure where they were from,” he said.
District 4 Councilor Joanne Vigil Coppler also expressed dismay.
“I regret that this is happening, but it shows there is a lot of consternation in our city,” she said, adding she’d received several phone calls and messages from constituents on the topic.
Vigil Coppler said she wasn’t sure why a committee had not been formed to begin addressing the monument in recent months. If that work had been done, she contended, perhaps Monday’s unrest could have been avoided.
District 1 City Councilor Signe Lindell sent a text message echoing her fellow councilor’s sentiments.
“We can understand the feelings that led to today’s actions,” she wrote. “And we in the City Council should have moved more quickly on a public process regarding the obelisk. However, we can never condone acts of destruction, no matter the intentions behind them. To do so undermines our democratic processes and ideals.”
Councilors said they plan to address the issue of the monuments — including what might need to be done to protect other monuments that could be targeted — at a regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday.
Santa Fe author and historian John Pen LaFarge likened those who carried out the destruction of the monument to toddlers having a fit, and said their actions damaged the city’s very core.
“The integrity of the heart of this town, the authenticity at the heart this town, the very thing that makes this town what it is, the center of it literally and figuratively has now been destroyed,” he said.