Albuquerque, New Mexico — A man was shot Monday night as protesters in New Mexico's largest city tried to tear down a bronze statue of a Spanish conquistador outside the Albuquerque Museum, prompting the city to announce that the statue would be removed until officials determine the next steps. The man was taken to a hospital and was in critical but stable condition, reports CBS Albuquerque affiliate KRQE-TV.
A confrontation erupted between protesters and a group of armed men who were trying to protect the statue of Juan de Oñate before protesters wrapped a chain around it and began tugging on it while chanting "tear it down." One protester repeatedly swung a pickax at the base of the statue.
Moments later, a few gunshots could be heard down the street and people started yelling that someone had been shot.
Witnesses told KRQE civilian militia members fired the shots. The militia calls itself the New Mexico Civil Guard, the station says.
Witnesses also told KRQE they were calling for police help as much as a half-hour before officers arrived.
Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said police used tear gas and flash bangs to protect the officers and detain those involved in the shooting. He said they were disarmed and taken into custody for questioning as police worked to secure the scene. The department tweeted that the FBI was helping it investigate.
"The shooting tonight was a tragic, outrageous and unacceptable act of violence and it has no place in our city," Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement. "Our diverse community will not be deterred by acts meant to divide or silence us. Our hearts go out the victim, his family and witnesses whose lives were needlessly threatened tonight. This sculpture has now become an urgent matter of public safety."
New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrch tweeted that he's calling on the Justice Department to investigate the shooting. "This is not the first report of heavily armed civilian militias appearing at protests around New Mexico in recent weeks. These extremists cannot be allowed to silence peaceful protests or inflict violence," he said.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who campaigned on her heritage as a 12th-generation New Mexican, tweeted that she's "horrified and disgusted beyond words by the reports of violence."
"The heavily armed individuals who flaunted themselves at the protest, calling themselves a 'civil guard,' were there for one reason: to menace protesters, to present an unsanctioned show of unregulated force," she said. " … Let me clear: There is absolutely no space in New Mexico for any violent would-be 'militia' seeking to terrorize New Mexicans."
Keller, Heinrich and Grisham are all Democrats.
The violence came just hours after activists in northern New Mexico celebrated the removal of another likeness of Oñate that was on public display at a cultural center in the community of Alcalde. Rio Arriba County officials said they removed it to safeguard it from possible damage and to avoid civil unrest ahead of a scheduled protest.
A forklift pried the massive bronze statue of Oñate on horseback from a concrete pedestal. Cheers erupted among bystanders who saw the memorial as an affront to indigenous people and an obstacle to greater racial harmony, though several people also arrived to defend the tribute to Oñate.
The Oñate statues have been a source of criticism for decades.
Oñate, who arrived in present-day New Mexico in 1598, is celebrated as a cultural father figure in communities along the Upper Rio Grande that trace their ancestry to Spanish settlers. But he's also reviled for his brutality toward Native Americans and others.