CIVIC PLAZA — On Sunday, July 19, what was intended to be a conservative-led, anti-mask protest became a heavily policed counter-demonstration which raised questions of uneven enforcement of a mayoral administrative decree banning weapons in city parks.
The Albuquerque Police Department drew criticism for detaining two armed Black men — Frankie Grady and Te Barry — who were part of a counter protest at Civic Plaza on Sunday. In stark contrast, a dozen mostly white, armed protesters — including members of the New Mexico Civil Guard — who were at a reopen protest on Thursday were given a warning rather than being detained.
Counter protesters arrived Sunday morning in advance of a reopen protest that far right blogger and organizer Rebekah Stevens chose to name the “We Can’t Breathe: Civic Plaza Maskless Protest.”
The name of the event sparked controversy given that “I can’t breathe” were the last words of multiple Black people killed by police in the United States.
Shortly after counterprotesters arrived at the plaza ahead of the reopen protest — which only attracted a few dozen people — about twenty police officers stormed the stage and detained Grady and Barry, both of whom are Black, for carrying firearms and allegedly refusing to disarm.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s office issued a firearms and other deadly weapons ban last month, days after the June 15 protest at an Oñate statue in Old Town where Steven Baca shot and critically injured protester Scott Williams.
The ban was issued in part as a response to the presence of New Mexico Civil Guard members who were briefly detained after the shooting and had multiple firearms confiscated. Civic Plaza is one of the spaces covered by the policy.
“With the Albuquerque Police Department recovering a large number of firearms and ammunition, that incident had the potential to be much more violent than it was,” the order reads. “The City of Albuquerque has the police power to protect its inhabitants and preserve peace and order … and desires to exercise this authority to prevent future incidents like the shooting on June 15, 2020.”
After the police detained Grady and Barry, the rest of the counter protesters followed the officers and confronted them a block away from the plaza. They asked the officers why they didn’t arrest any white, armed protesters at Thursday’s reopen protest.
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The Daily Lobo asked Keller’s office for clarification on the order and how it’s meant to be enforced, whether with fines, arrests or some other mechanism. That request went unanswered and was redirected to APD spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos, who said the order was posted at Civic Plaza on Thursday before someone tore the signs down.
“We decided to educate people and hand out copies of the ban, in case they were not aware,” Gallegos said in an email. “We gave them an opportunity to comply.”
In response to criticism, APD tweeted on Sunday that the two counter protesters, as well as one reopen protester, were “briefly detained after they refused to disarm.”
But Grady and Barry, after being released and returning to the protest, said they were not given the chance to disarm before being detained.
“This comes after a similar protest Thursday where APD approached 10 armed individuals and told them to comply with the ban on guns at Civic Plaza. All individuals complied or left the plaza,” reads another tweet from APD.
Also on Sunday, Albuquerque police officers pepper sprayed Black Lives Matter counter protesters — which a Daily Lobo photographer was caught in — after they confronted a lone reopen protester.
“Someone with a big American flag assaulted a female BLM protester, and when she fought back the riot cops came,” wrote downtown resident Sam Colombo on the Nextdoor app, a social networking service for neighborhoods.
After pepper spraying the crowd, riot police held the line for less than fifteen minutes before retreating as counter protesters chanted “Black lives matter” and “Whose streets? Our streets!”
Bella Davis is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @bladvs