A Native activist was shot in the town of Española, New Mexico, yesterday, September 28, during a protest of a statue of Juan de Oñate, the 16th-century Spanish governor of New Mexico who launched a war against the Acoma Pueblo. Suspect 23-year-old Ryan Martinez was taken into custody for allegedly shooting and injuring Jacob Johns, a Hopi and Akimel O’odham climate activist and artist.
Native activists from groups including the Red Nation, NDN Collective, and Three Sisters Collective arrived Tuesday and camped overnight at the town plaza where the statue was slated to be installed in front of the sheriff’s office. The sculpture has long been a contentious issue in the small city of Española, and the work was taken down in 2020 after protests demanding its removal. The city decided to place the monument back on view and scheduled the rededication ceremony for Thursday, September 28.
Faced with a growing number of protestors at the site, the city said in a statement on Wednesday, September 27 that it had reserved a space for the activists. Later that day, the city announced it would postpone the event “due to unforeseen circumstances.”
The protestors placed offerings at the foot of the pedestal where Oñate’s likeness was expected to be placed. They taped signs to the cement base reading, “We don’t want Oñate; say no!” and “Leave us alone; quit invoking trauma!”
Photographs of the scene show Martinez wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat and standing amongst the gathered crowd. He reportedly began arguing with the activists and police asked him to leave. A chilling video shows the moments before the shooting. Martinez attempted to reenter the protesters’ space, but after crowd members physically prevented him from doing so, Martinez jumped over a short wall, pulled a handgun from his pocket, and fired into the crowd, hitting Johns in the chest. Martinez reportedly drove away in a white Tesla.
The Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office took Martinez into custody shortly after. The agency has not yet responded to Hyperallergic‘s request for comment.
The victim, Jacob Johns, is described in a GoFundMe page launched yesterday as a muralist and musician specializing in “non-violent, peaceful ‘artivism.’” Johns was airlifted to the hospital and received surgery, from which he is recovering. The campaign has raised over $64,000 so far.
“Although we are seeking justice for our brother, we cannot negate the fact that this community has been re-traumatized by an act of terrorism at a peaceful assembly, a gathering in which we were exercising our First Amendment rights,” Native activist group Three Sisters Collective wrote in a statement.
An eerily similar incident occurred in Albuquerque in 2020. Activists had assembled to remove an Oñate statue there, and after a confrontation, a man was shot, allegedly by members of the right-wing militia New Mexico Civil Guard.