The unmerciful destruction of the 152-year-old obelisk in the Plaza, the heart and soul of Santa Fe, came as a shock, a cruel act against a monument that has become an icon to many who care deeply about our unique city.

That those with ropes and chains who furiously pulled down the three huge chunks of the obelisk assuredly did it for the purpose of participating in the nationwide Indigenous Peoples Day of Rage may be understandable because of the horrific wrongs carried out against the Natives for centuries. But there are other ways to avenge unjust injuries.

This is not 1599 and Juan de Oñate’s revenge against Acoma Pueblo for the killing of 13 Spaniards. This is not 1680 and the Pueblo revolt led by Po'Pay against the Spaniard conquistadors. This is not 1692 and the Spanish return to New Mexico led by Diego de Vargas with 60 soldiers and 100 Natives. Nor is this 1866-68 when the obelisk was erected and dedicated.

This is 2020, by which time we are supposed to have become civilized. That plaque on the monument to the Civil War dead never should have used the word “savages” to describe another people, neighbors of Santa Feans whose ancestors precede the Spaniards by centuries. It was wrong. That plaque should have been removed eons ago.

Tearing down a structure that marked part of our history is a moral, ethical, dastardly crime and surely illegal, regardless of the endgame. The act desecrated our city, a City Different in so many ways and proud of it.

There are negotiated, diplomatic solutions that save a lot of hurt, that soothe demands for revenge. The successful agreement to end the annual discord over the Entrada pageant in Fiesta de Santa Fe is one example.

Mayor Alan Webber, the City Council and the Santa Fe Police Department are to blame for this wanton and unnecessary destruction of a Santa Fe hallmark that has stood for more than a century and a half.

“The violence and damage to a historic monument in the middle of our Plaza will not help our community to come together when we most need to do so,” Webber wrote in a Facebook posting. “Those who took this action have broken the law and they’ve broken trust.

“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.”

He’s absolutely right. But his sympathy, certainly sincere, comes too late. The destruction need not have occurred.

It is understandable that the mayor has lots on his plate amid a horrific virus that is killing our people, destroying our businesses, keeping kids out of school and sparking fears of hunger, eviction and foreclosure because of the loss of jobs.

Nevertheless, Webber should have convened his promised Truth and Reconciliation Commission long ago. The City Council, some of whose members expressed regret for the calamity, should have pressed the mayor to act on his pledge. And the police who left the scene to avoid a violent confrontation with the protesters should have stayed to prevent the teardown of the obelisk. They could have called reinforcements, even the state cops.

A monument needs to be built in place of what once was an obelisk. It should be a creation dedicated to diversity, devoted to all of the people of Santa Fe: Natives, Hispanics, Anglos, whoever — Santa Feans all. We are after all the City of Holy Faith. Let’s prove it.

Richard C. Gross, a career journalist at home and abroad, retired as the opinion page editor of the Baltimore Sun. He lives in Santa Fe.

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