Man shot during Albuquerque protest over Juan de Onate statue, police say

kali9/iStockBy MORGAN WINSOR, ABC News

(ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.) -- A man was shot in New Mexico's largest city on Monday night as protesters tried to take down a bronze statue of a Spanish conquistador, authorities said.

The victim was transported to a local hospital where he was listed in critical but stable condition late Monday, according to the Albuquerque Police Department.

Gunfire erupted outside the Albuquerque Museum near Tiguex Park when a group of armed men confronted protesters and tried to defend the statue of Juan de Onate, New Mexico's 16th-century colonial governor.

Police used tear gas and flash bangs to protect the responding officers who detained those involved in the shooting and worked to secure the scene. The individuals were disarmed and taken into custody for questioning, police said.

Detectives are investigating the incident with the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, police said.

Albuquerque Police Chief Michael Geier said they have received "reports about vigilante groups possibly instigating this violence."

"If this is true, we will be holding them accountable to the fullest extent of the law, including federal hate group designation and prosecution," Geier said in a statement late Monday.

Contentious monuments around the world are being pulled down amid protests against racial injustice and police brutality in the wake of George Floyd's death in police custody. Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old black man, died in Minneapolis on May 25 shortly after a white police officer was filmed kneeling on his neck as three other officers stood by.

Monday night's shooting prompted Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller to announce that the Juan de Onate statue near Tiguex Park would be removed until officials "can determine the next steps."

"The shooting tonight was a tragic, outrageous and unacceptable act of violence and it has no place in our city," Keller said in a statement late Monday. "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 Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she was "horrified and disgusted beyond words" by the 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," Grisham said in a statement late Monday. "Let me be clear: There is absolutely no space in New Mexico for any violent would-be 'militia' seeking to terrorize New Mexicans; and there is no space for violence of any kind on our streets and in our communities, or for any sort of escalation of reckless, violent rhetoric, no matter who strikes first."

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