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Protesters injured after riot police arrive at nonviolent protest

On Thursday, Oct. 20th, nonviolent protesters gathered outside the Student Union Building at The University of New Mexico to protest the Turning Point USA and Students for Life-sponsored speaking event “How Men Can Fight Fight For Life.” Riot police affiliated with the New Mexico State Police were eventually called in despite the gathering remaining nonviolent. Protesters faced physical force from police that resulted in bruising for some.

Julie Bettencourt said they were bruised in the eye by the riot police while protesting that night. Anthony Wallace, acting president of Affordable Student Housing UNM, also told the Daily Lobo that multiple students present that night reported bruising to him and shared an image of bruising on the Instagram account he runs for ASHUNM.

“I was creating a big human barrier, walking between the majority of the protesters and the riot police to create a buffer zone for folks. I got shoved by one of the riot officers. I currently have a bruise under my eye,” Bettencourt said.

The Daily Lobo spoke to 10 protesters who were present at the protest, with all of them saying that they disagreed with the riot police's presence.

“It was uncomfortable because I don't think our protesting warrants that much extra security, especially for them — in riot gear, bringing guns — I thought that was very unwarranted and unnecessary. Not only a waste of resources, but the crowd wasn't violent, so I didn't really understand why,” Sunandita Santhanam, a student and protester, said.

When asked who requested the presence of the riot police and when, UNM spokesperson Cinnamon Blair said it was a joint decision made after protesters shook the barricades.

“The decision to engage the ERT (Emergency Response Team) was made by the joint command of UNM Police Department and NM State Police in response to the actions of multiple individuals aggressively moving the barricades and failing to disperse when requested after the event had concluded,” Blair wrote in a statement to the Daily Lobo

Bettencourt and Devin Martain, another student present that night, reported not being able to hear calls to disperse. Martain added that the use of riot police forced protesters to stay present.

“The only reason that protesters felt obligated to stay was because the police brought out the riot police and they did that show of force …You really have to say, ‘We see this as an escalation. We see this for what it is, and you can't do that. You can't do that on our campus with our tuition dollars against our own student body’,” Martain said.

Several protesters said that the intention behind shaking the barricade was to cause commotion, but that no property or individuals were harmed that night as a result.

“We just moved the rails to show our power. But the rails are nonhuman,” Leandro Pita, a student and protester, said.

The close proximity of the riot police to the student residence halls caused concern for Ellison Walton, a UNM student and protester, said. Walton also mentioned that allowing the event to take place on campus was contradictory to UNM's values.

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“I think it directly contradicts what the University stands for, not just (in) the sense of  diversity, equity and inclusion. I think it also directly opposes our education because this can provide falsehoods and misinformation … I also think the amount of police presence at a mostly minority-serving campus is really inappropriate,” Walton said.

For Pita, the Turning Point event was an example of white privilege and utilizing it to try to frame yourself as the victim while simultaneously inviting a speaker to campus who has publicly made misogynistic, transphobic and racist statements.

“Have a conservative speaker: that's fine. But a conservative speaker that talks badly about a thick black woman like Lizzo because she is, quote-unquote, ‘fat and looks happy?’ … It is an insult to African American Student Services,” Pita said.

Several protesters called for the University to address a distinction between freedom of speech and hate speech.

“I feel like UNM as a campus — even if it has both right-wing and left-wing students who carry opposite ends of the political spectrum — they need to recognize the fine line between what is hate speech and what is just freedom of speech,” Santhanam said.

The following Saturday, Oct. 22, at 2:45 a.m., a Lobo Alert was sent out saying that nine individuals were attacked and robbed near the Student Residence Center apartments on campus. Wallace said this was striking given the amount of police force used to protect the SUB on Thursday.

“Y’all have the money to bring riot police for a peaceful protest to beat up students, but you don't have money for passive patrols … There's no justice. Or there's no justice for UNM students,“ Wallace said.

Several of the protesters voiced concerns over UNM’s priorities for safety and who the University is protecting.

“The fact that they would bring someone like that onto campus to speak at an event is, again, it's promoting the fact that we should just let you know hate speech go on, and present itself or be under the disguise of freedom of speech,” Santhanam said.

Maddie Pukite is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at managingeditor@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @maddogpukite

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