“Shoot us in the arm, shoot us in the leg, not in the heart and not in the head.”
Dozens of signs and the voices of hundreds rang out over a Black Lives Matter march on Central Avenue Friday, organized by Albuquerque native and University of New Mexico graduate Nikki Archuleta.
After the crowd gathered outside the Cinemark 14 Theater in Downtown Albuquerque, the march took off down Central Avenue, united in chants of: “Hands up, don’t shoot,” “Whose streets? Our streets,” and “No justice, no peace, no racist police.”
Marchers carried a slew of signs sporting slogans such as: “De-militarize the Police,” “#BLM,” and “End Police Brutality,” as they traveled west.
Her eyes welling up with tears as she lifted a megaphone to address the growing crowd, Archuleta looked for her mother, who came to stand by her side with an arm around her shoulder as she read a poem she had written, titled “Black Boys.”
When Archuleta, 23, began planning the event in April, she had no idea it would draw hundreds.
While the time and date of the march changed several times over the months leading up to Sept. 22, “any day is a perfect day for a Black Lives Matter march,” she said. “No one ever supports black lives, nobody ever does. So this is absolutely beautiful to me, absolutely beautiful.”
Amazed by the turnout, Archuleta still worried for her safety and said she shouldn’t have to organize a march just to affirm her humanity.
“People tell me I’m a domestic terrorist, because I want to come out here and affirm my existence and affirm my humanity and say that I matter and that my people matter,” she said. “I never thought in my life that I would ever have to do this, you know, to tell people I am a human being, and I deserve to be treated better than this.”
The march stopped at a roundabout on 8th Street, wrapping around a concrete wall where Archuleta stood with a megaphone, sharing her story and inviting others to do the same.
The first one to seize the opportunity was another UNM graduate, Skye Gullatt.
“Black Lives Matter is not a challenge,” Gullatt said to the pulsing crowd before her. “N-----, savage — (those) are titles that are not human. I challenge you to see us as just human — that’s what Black Lives Matter is all about.”
Other UNM students who showed their support Friday, including senior Danielle Moore, were angered by an event that took place on the University’s main campus Thursday when a conservative group held an , advertising different prices for people based on their race.
“Free speech can only go so far — that’s not free speech, that’s hate speech,” Moore said. “Not only did (the conservative group) come to our campus but they had the audacity to do a bake sale that would put minority groups in jeopardy.”
Many problems surrounding racism lie within educational institutions, she said.
“We need to find a way to demolish the institutional racism in the educational systems,” she said. “I should not have to go to school in fear for my life. My education should not be on the line. I pay tuition just like everyone else at UNM pays tuition. I have a right to be here just like everybody else has a right to be here.”
UNM graduate student Christopher Rivera was also shaken by Thursday’s bake sale.
“What happened yesterday with the affirmative action bake sale, that was ridiculous,” Rivera said. “Sometimes on campus, I don’t feel safe.”
Seeing the march as a space where he could join and appreciate fellow citizens supporting a movement he believed in, Rivera was comforted — but also wary of the strong police presence.
“Right here, I feel safe for now, but I’m always looking around,” he said. “I’m pretty nervous about the cops; I don’t like cops in general, especially with them surrounding us all the time. It’s really terrifying.”
Law enforcement did not interfere with the march, but as a precaution, the National Lawyers Guild provided legal observers and advisers to assist participants as a show of support for the movement.
“We’re in a world right now that is divided between us and them, and there’s a real necessity to come together to find peace in the streets, in people’s hearts,” said Eric Sirotkin of the NLG. “Any role that I can play to demonstrate that black lives matter, that we are not a society that needs to demonize people.”
At its peak, the event drew close to 400 people — a number that overwhelmed Archuleta, who has seen similar protests over the past few years with dismal turnouts.
“It means a lot to me,” she said. “I worked really hard on this. I would have been happy with 10 people.”
Her mother, Charlene Archuleta, marched alongside her daughter and sons, pumping a golden pom-pom toward the sky.
“My mom never gets to go to these events, because she works like crazy,” Archuleta said. “It actually comforted me. She cried, so I hope that was a good cry.”
“It’s profound, it’s world-changing,” her mother Charlene Archuleta said. “It’s going to be pivotal, and (Nikki) is going to be pivotal in this community. I feel like she is going to bring our community together as a whole.”
Many who took the chance to speak through the megaphone to the crowd thanked the community for standing together to prove that they could not be divided or “turned against each other.”
Shortly before the march began to travel to its origin point, Lynn Munn, a 54-year-old Native American who identifies as bisexual, asked anyone in the crowd who earned more than $100,000 a year to raise their hand.
“We have to look at the bigger picture,” Munn said. “My husband is black, and I support the Black Lives Matter movement, but our people are turned against each other.”
People need to step back and look at more than just one movement, Munn said, because humans are being put in a caste system.
“As people, we need to support each other. We have to look beyond all the barriers that the media shoves in our faces. There are people here to support you that will support you with their lives if need be,” she said. “I will fight to my death with you. The movement is beautiful. It’s like an onion; you have to peel back the layers and figure out the core.”
Celia Raney is the news editor for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Celia_Raney.