The New Mexican’s lead headline Tuesday shrieked with a misguided point of view: “Activists topple obelisk,” it said.

A more accurate headline would have been: Police let mob destroy statue.

Lawbreakers on Monday entered the Plaza — a city park and a National Historic Landmark — and tore down the 152-year-old obelisk.

The hoodlums cheered for themselves and laughed at the weaklings who allowed them to commit crimes. They even paraded around the fallen obelisk for 15 or 20 minutes, said police Chief Andrew Padilla. Not a police officer was in sight to snap on the cuffs and haul the perpetrators to jail.

Padilla and Mayor Alan Webber gave a self-serving account Tuesday of their inept response. They said they had expected a peaceful demonstration.

Six police officers initially were on the Plaza — ample staffing, the chief said, or so he thought. Police early on arrested two people who tackled or shoved officers, Padilla said.

Backup arrived. But as trouble escalated, police ceded the Plaza to the criminals.

Padilla said he had reviewed a command officer’s decision to withdraw and agreed with it. Rest assured, Padilla said, police would have returned and “engaged” with the criminals had lives been in danger.

He and Webber maintained that, by police declining to wade into a lawless crowd, people were safer. They didn’t mention the criminals were safest of all.

It was a nauseating performance. Webber and Padilla are unworthy of command.

Padilla spun the cover story with all his might. Instead of calling in more officers to keep the peace, police permitted a mob to rule the day. Better to allow property losses and be thankful no one was injured, he said.

As for the criminals, police still hope to catch them, the chief said.

With the novel coronavirus raging, the lawbreakers wore masks. Police surrendered not only the day but their best chance to make arrests.

Webber is just as culpable as his police department. He opened the way for this disgrace.

The mayor in June ordered a city crew operating under cover of darkness to remove the statue of conquistador Don Diego de Vargas from Cathedral Park.

Webber completed his duplicitous act by signing an emergency proclamation more than seven hours later. It supposedly authorized him to do what he’d already done.

As for his rationale, Webber claimed the de Vargas statue, the obelisk and a statue of frontiersman Kit Carson that sits on federal property could attract protesters and ignite violence. He wanted all three taken down.

Worse still, Webber and Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham conspired to remove the obelisk the same night the de Vargas statue was hauled from Cathedral Park.

State workers arrived on the Plaza with a crane and a plan to blindside the public. But they aborted their attempt to remove the obelisk, fearing they might damage it.

The governor and Webber didn’t stave off trouble. They emboldened vandals who damaged the obelisk in summertime and the mob that destroyed it Monday.

Stating the obvious, Webber called it a crime to rip down the obelisk. Talk is cheap, and the mayor specializes in it. Denouncing criminals after allowing them free rein is meaningless.

This time, police and the mayor sanctioned selective law enforcement.

If Cowboys for Trump, a group I dislike, had descended on the Plaza carrying chains, ropes and banners, would police have vanished? Would the cowboys have been characterized as activists, even if they broke no laws while assembling in a public space?

The most important job the mayor has is making sure his biggest and most expensive department serves and protects the public.

Santa Fe police did neither this time.

The fact that police vacated the Plaza while crimes occurred will be celebrated by some people. Those who consider the obelisk a monument to racism will applaud the police department’s negligence and Webber’s complicity in it.

The destruction of the obelisk, warts and all, is a loss for Santa Fe.

History can be complicated, sobering and shameful. The obelisk contained all those elements.

Most of the statue was a Civil War memorial. Three sides of the obelisk paid tribute to Union soldiers in New Mexico who stopped a westward advance of the Confederate government.

“If the Union hadn’t survived, we would have been a slave state,” said Santa Fe resident Diana Capshaw, whose great-great-grandfather Nazario Gonzales was a lieutenant colonel of the New Mexico Volunteers.

Across the country, statues of Confederate soldiers have been yanked down. The confederacy stood for racism, say those who claimed the statues venerated all that was wrong.

In contrast, the obelisk in Santa Fe in part celebrated Union soldiers who defeated the Confederacy. In doing so, 3 million Black people who were slaves were freed by President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

That aspect of the obelisk was ignored by the criminals who tore it down.

They focused on its fourth panel, which paid homage to one of those shameful parts of history.

The same army that fought to preserve the union also committed atrocities. This was reflected in the panel that originally read: “To the heroes who have fallen in the various battles with savage Indians in the territory of New Mexico.”

That part of the obelisk has long been debated and denounced. It reflected the white supremacy of the time. A racist society was in place when the statue was erected in 1867.

Someone took a chisel in 1974 and erased the word “savage” from the controversial panel. Few opposed to the obelisk were assuaged.

They wanted the statue removed. Now they have their way. But smashing the obelisk didn’t change what happened. It only eliminated a signpost of history.

Padilla says the investigation is ongoing. Videos will be reviewed. Social media will be checked for leads. If his officers can identify those who wrecked the obelisk, police will arrest them.

The criminals wore masks. With the pandemic raging, people cover their faces.

Police have less to work with. That will give Webber and his police force an excuse if the perpetrators escape prosecution.

“Tearing down the obelisk is not how we act in Santa Fe,” Webber said Tuesday.

That’s nice revisionism for Webber and his police commanders.

Had they done their jobs, the violence wouldn’t have happened.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

(55) comments

Dennis Martinez

I am from Santa Fe, born and raised, and I am deeply offended by this violence and destruction on the plaza. I think those perpetrators should be punished. It is not okay to go around destroying things just because you don’t like them. Sad day for Santa Fe...

David Romero

Good job Milan. Well said.

Bryan Wehrli

Missing for the most part in the editorial and comments is any attempt to understand what motivated those who participated in pulling down the monument. "Seek first to understand" is a pretty good motto. I can understand why indigenous people get tired of being reminded that they were and still are ( by many) viewed as savages, just as African Americans get tired of passing statues of Robert E Lee in their own cities. I think that for Anglos like myself maybe it's hard to understand why that hurts, and why some become impatient and elect to break the law. What if we tried to understand one another first, before condemning actions like this?

Maxwell Vertical

How do you justify desecrating the Cross of the Martyrs?

Richard Reinders

Indigenous didn’t pull down the statue anglos did, and who asked the Pueblo Governors what they think. Once again people sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong.

Samuel Herrera

The Mayor and Police Chief need to resign. One question raised by councilor Michael Garcia asked an important question which both the mayor and the Chief have evaded: why didn’t they leave alone the guy who chained himself to the obelisk a day before? They patted themselves on the back for “negotiating” him to come down. Who was he hurting by chaining himself to the obelisk? Best solution: pray for rain or snow. Let him rot up there in his chains. That was another missed opportunity for the Mayor and Chief to avoid this situation.

John Cook

This column would have more punch if Milan did not insist that Mayor Webber is unfit to be mayor at every turn. Much like the rather unbalanced right-wingers who insist the police should have used machine guns to protect a piece of concrete.

Khal Spencer

Funny. I did a word search on machine guns and the only place I found it is in your post. I think that goes down under the Straw Man Fallacy.

Emily Koyama

Mr Cook, you repeatedly suggest that the Police had two choices; what they acually did, (essentially nothing) and the alternative; killing the mob.

There were other options open to them, such as being there in sufficient numbers to stop the violence and destruction, and, if necessary, using pepper spray or other less than lethal methods, and arresting the worst offenders.

For whatever reason, they retreated...I suspect a call was made by Webber to the Chief, who in turn called (not over the radio) to give the commander on scene orders to stand down.

Thomas Carlson

It's a sad day for Santa Fe when a legitimate protest by Native Americans can be co-opted by a bunch of anonymous thugs, most likely with their pockets full of cash from wherever, and most folks on this site don't even recognize that they're been played like a cheap piano. It's street theater! It's meant to get you all riled up and vote for "law and order" in November. I'm sure the police are out looking for these hooligans as I write this. More power to them...

Kathy Fish

This comment should be removed for its racist vocabulary. According to John McWhorter, associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, "...Thug today is a nominally polite way of using the N-word. Many people suspect it, and they are correct. When somebody talks about thugs ruining a place, it is almost impossible today that they are referring to somebody with blond hair. It is a sly way of saying there go those black people ruining things again. And so anybody who wonders whether thug is becoming the new N-word doesn't need to. It's most certainly is." Perhaps we might think before we speak (spout), and consider who we're really targeting with the words we choose to post on public forums.

Audrey Rubinstein

This is a very unfair attack on the Mayor and the Santa Fe Police force. We are so lucky to have the very sane and measured Santa Fe Police Department.

Kathy Fish

Audrey, unless you back up your claim with some concrete evidence, you're going to get laughed out of town. "Very sane"? Come on.

Giles Bowkett

This is ridiculous, one-sided trash. The mayor promised to tear down the racist relic himself (by "racist relic" I mean the obelisk, not the author of this column, although the term fits both). Had the mayor tore down the racist relic himself, it would not have been necessary for volunteers to do his job for him. So it is legit to criticize the mayor for his inaction, but it is absolutely ludicrous, inappropriate, and disrespectful to refer to these protestors as criminals or urge police action. The police overreacted, bringing out riot cops, when they should have assisted in the demolition. This column is racist, hateful trash urging violence. It should never have been printed.

Carlos Vasquez

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Khal Spencer

B.S. this was a violation of the law and a breach of the peace. Calling Milan a racist is just nonsense on your part.

Mike Johnson

I tried to report it for abuse, nothing.

Khal Spencer

I suppose my post calling the mob "Thugs, morons, vandals, hoodlums" could be reported as well. The other day I found a post containing actual profanity and obscenity that was not removed. Maybe they are just letting us get it all out of our system?

Katherine Martinez

This is about WEAK leadership and the supposed leader of our city having criminals do his leg work. The mayor is weak and couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat. Those who agree with this abominable act, should find a place to live in Portland.

Emily Koyama

Good grief, it actually sounds like you believe the drivel you wrote.

Stefanie Beninato

What? When did they call out the riot police? There were SIX regular police officers on the plaza. And the police should participate in government destruction? Should police also refuse to enforce laws like reasonable gun control laws, traffic laws? Would you feel good if police helped someone vandalize your property?

Richard Reinders

You must be a transplant without roots in the culture or Community, where are you from

Alfonso Duran

Good going Milan. Grateful for your post you are spot on Amigo.

Alfonso Duran

OK Milan you finally got something right. Its time for the Mayor to put on his running shoes and head back where he came from. The Mayor's wrong headed response to the actions of the thugs can only mean that he is in over his head. RESIGN AND GET OUT OF TOWN while you still have an opportunity to leave with a little dignity.

Stefanie Beninato

Why did Webber and Padilla think that a 3 day long protest would not follow the pattern in other cities where outsiders come in and turn it violent or the "protesters" get violent because they do not get immediate gratification? Did they think our quickly diminishing reputation as the City Different would save us from that pattern? And why reduce police presence on the 12th--the actual day reserved for Indigenous Day? The optics look like it was a willing acquiescence to "rid" our city of reminders of its historical past.

Richard Reinders

Of coarse it was planned, it fits the agenda

Khal Spencer

Milan, I can't believe some of your colleagues call those people activists. Thugs, morons, vandals, hoodlums, maybe. But activists? That is an insult to anyone who ever busted their a$$ to make this a better place. I've spent a quarter century working with people on various boards, commissions, and 501c3/4 organizations muddling along slowly and painfully for change. Change is slow and hard. Busting up the furniture is easy. Then all you have busted furniture and a mess to clean up.

Plus, the double standard the paper uses to describe left vs. right wing mobs bugs the devil out of me. And I pay for this paper and its "activist" reporters.

We would likely have had to clear the square early in anticipation of something getting out of control. Once the mob descended, it was a tough call. Wade in with tear gas or retreat. Well, maybe I would have made a different decision but I don't wear the Chief or Mayor's boots and their job, at that point, was to make a hard call. By then it was too late to do anything other than escalate or bail. Wading in with riot police and tear gas takes a strong stomach and in this town, the liberals would be calling for the Chief and Mayor's heads on a platter. But what happened makes me want to vomit.

Finally, thanks for reminding some of your readers that this was at its basic a Civil War memorial. Like, what we did at a cost to the nation nearly as heavy as what France paid in WW I, in blood and treasure, to end our economy based in part on slave labor and the notion that Blacks were not really people. Yes, history is complicated and when the South was defeated, the Union turned its guns on Native Americans to conquer the West. History ain't nice, but we got to live with both history and each other and this weeks events made that second part harder. Every time I read a letter by one of the folks who cheer the destruction on I want to spit.

Thanks for bringing this up,and take care.

paul pacheco

What the police department did or failed to do is termed “dereliction of duty”! And that goes for this mayor! These are public officials who take an oath to defend all the citizens of Santa Fe; not sometimes, not when they feel like it, not some citizens, but all of us! When they fail to do their jobs and uphold the oaths they swear of affirm to, there is no option but for them to resign and step down! Thugs vs. lack of leadership; what’s next? Start vandalizing local businesses in the downtown area? Breaking windows, spray painting and graffiti? Is that next? I’m not providing ideas to the thugs because they don’t need any, but without responsible leadership that the voters, not expect, but demand there is no leadership. Police protection is a 24/7 responsibility, not when they think it should be! This is about protection for all the citizens of Santa Fe and its history and not a handful of brainless thugs!

Laurie Buffer

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Andrew Lucero

WOW!!!! I don’t know what’s more surprising. That Milan actually wrote this and it made it past the editorial board of the Santa Fe New Mexican. Or that I find myself in 100% agreement with him.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup] It is amazing Casaus and Inez allowed this to be published. It shows how bad what Webber and the Police allowed and encouraged to happen really was.

Khal Spencer

If Milan gets the boot ride over this the paper no longer gets my check.

Tiffany Thomas

Spot on Milan!

Amber Espinosa-Trujillo

The Mayor and the Police Chief are no less criminals than the perpetrators! They also have no stake in the game as they as well as many of the perpetrators are not from here. Having the Three Sisters and Red Nation pull down the Obelisk prevents the Mayor from having to deal with the issue. He used them to take away the issue they just haven’t realized that yet.. Milan, I am glad you are continuing to see that the Shiny Penny you supported and encouraged to run was all a cheap facade! I grieve for our community and continue to pray for the peace we have lived under for so many years!

Carlos Vasquez

[thumbup]

Lee DiFiore

Don't often agree with you Milan but this was spot on. I believe there is more to the story about the PD abandoning the plaza than was said at the news conference. My guess is the mayor ordered the police to stand down. This is what happens when elected officials make political decisions on how the laws should be enforced. Both the mayor and the chief (for many reasons) need to go.

Mike Johnson

We knew Webber was soft-on-crime, and a socialist when he was elected, now the police force is the same and are not protecting life and property. Santa Fe has become a mob ruled city like Portland now, citizens and their property are not safe from roaming mobs and anarchy. He must be removed from office ASAP. The city is collapsing into chaos.

Paul Davis

I strongly suggest making more friends in Portland, so that you can be better informed about the situation there. Portland is not "mob ruled" and "citizens and their property" are just about as safe as they have ever been. I've heard this from dozens of friends who live in different parts of Portland, and who very much object to the media coverage of the extremely limited disruption and violence that has taken place there.

Bill Nibchuck

Sadly, this is the playbook of so many Democrat run cities in America. Just look the other way as these "peaceful protesters" are allowed to run rampant with destruction of any thing that symbolizes democracy. Wake up. Far left socialists want to destroy our system of government, Democrat or Republican.

Seth Feder

I am proud the police chose to not escalate the violence. Just think if somebody was shot to death that day... how that would have changed the city forever. The mob was wrong, and it's right to blame them.

Paul Dirdak Wendy Pomeroy

I agree. The mob was wrong, and the FBI and other law enforcement are working to identify and arrest those responsible for destruction of the monument and other unlawful activity. I am grateful no one was injured. Few have the training to assess a mob situation and to know what policing techniques will de-escalate it.

John Smallwood

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Anita McGinnis

So, they, in effect, are letting the mob escalate the violence. Just think; someone eventually getting shot is part of the activist's script. Will you be shocked when it happens?

Richard Reinders

So you don’t stop bank robbery or someone assaulting you personally because maybe someone might get shot, what you do is prosecute the shooter and maintain law and order. This happened because a wimp of a Mayor in Oregon, Chicago, New York and now Santa Fe did not enforce the law, that is what causes lawlessness .

Bryan Wehrli

False equivalence. Assault or bank robbery are not the same as pulling down a monument.

Barry Rabkin

"Law breakers", "criminals" are the correct words to describe the people who tore down the obelisk. Also, "vandals" is an appropriate term. The word "activist" is not the correct word to describe the criminals. Neither is the word "protestor." I am sorry that the SFR Editor allows incorrect terms to be used to describe the criminals. Very unprofessional editing.

Laurie Buffer

[thumbup]

Bryan Wehrli

Were those who participated in the Boston Tea Party thugs, vandals, criminals?

Randall Finley

You’ve been supporting everything which led to this. Now you’re critical. What a hypocrite.

Richard Reinders

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup] Well said, I don't always agree with you Milan but you hit this one right on the nail.

BOB SCHWARTZ

and the truth is that they don't care as long as thy get their paycheck, the police dept, from the evidence room, to rape kits, to staffing, to not filing cases in a timely mater has been destroyed under padilla and webber makes excuses, but he has destroyed the city.

David Brown

👍

Donald Apodaca

Milan, best column of the year. Thank you!

Katherine Martinez

Well Milan, you got this one right. This was a devastating blow to me as a lifelong resident of our once peaceful hamlet. Many have also noted there were more white, guilt ridden fragiles at the scene than there were actual natives. Sad--I wish they could have focused their abundant idle time on constructive rather than destructive acts---such as helping natives to obtain running water or internet where they live. As far as the police, just like the rest of the country, police forces have been neutered by the likes of these so called mayor's or excuses for mayors. Mob rule is now the norm. I hope you hypocrites are satisfied; this will only create more animosity.

Anita McGinnis

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