The Black New Mexico Movement held a rally on Saturday, Sept. 12, in Rio Rancho, the more conservative, smaller city that neighbors Albuquerque. Fifty or 60 people gathered to speak out against racism, marking the 24th anniversary of Tupac Shakur’s death and continuing the hip-hop artist’s activism against police brutality and racial injustice. A larger crowd of opposing demonstrators showed up and antagonized the group.
In a dirt lot off a busy commercial street, counter-protestors blasted music, did donuts with their trucks and revved engines amid "Trump 2020" and "Blue Lives Matter" signs and American flags. Some carried handguns in holsters.
Across a small road, the Black New Mexico Movement had set up a line of parked cars, blocking off an empty paved parking lot. Military veterans in white vests formed a “Wall of Vets,” standing with the Black New Mexico Movement.
The anti-racist organizers set up a loudspeaker and tables where folks could register to vote and learn about the Census. Nichole Rogers with the Welstand Foundation spoke about the importance of Black and Brown communities getting accurately counted. “We deserve the same things that they get,” Rogers said, “equal housing, fair housing, no more redlining Black people.”
Krista Barber, president of the Rio Rancho chapter of the Black New Mexico Movement, spoke of the long history of government-sanctioned violence against Black people. “Twelve generations of our children are afraid of the police!" she said. "Twelve generations of our children are being treated differently by their teachers!"
She urged people not to give up in the face of hate and fatigue. “We have to show up every time, every day,” Barber said. “I know it gets tiresome. Make the phone calls for Breonna Taylor. Make the phone call every day for Jacob Blake. Make the phone call so that we can see justice through.”
Before the speeches were over, some counter-protestors got more verbally combative at the perimeter, and then swarmed the protest area. “I’m fighting for my f***ing city!" yelled a young man carrying a skateboard. "And you guys are not f***ing welcome here!”
Counter-protestors referenced conspiracy theories about antifa rioters and accused BLM of being looters—ideas that stood in stark contrast to the small, peaceful rally.
After 20 minutes or so of shouting and escalation, mostly from counter-protesters, Rio Rancho police officers began to arrive. They talked to the most belligerent of the counter-protestors and stood between close confrontations as they arose.
The crowd cheered as a handful of Cowboys for Trump rode in on horses – that’s the group whose leader has made racist remarks about Black athletes. Members of the far-right militia group the Three Percenters were there, heavily armed and wearing military-style clothing. The New Mexico Civil Guard also had a presence.
A fellow reporter counted more than 20 anti-BLM demonstrators openly carrying guns, including several with long guns. No one from the Black New Mexico Movement event appeared to have a firearm.
Nearly everyone on the anti-racism side wore masks, while at least a couple hundred counter-protestors were without masks. Some surrounded individual Black New Mexico Movement organizers, getting in their faces and arguing. Organizer Arthur Bell and others kept trying to engage them in discussions about racism.
“We can fix it,” Bell said. “Nah, we can’t fix it,” responded a counter-protestor.
“Us talking right now is fixing it,” Bell said. The man replied: “It’s a start."
“That’s all we need,” Bell said. “One step forward, and no steps back. That means we’re making progress.”
The protestors making a stand against racism gradually left after enduring nearly two hours of continual verbal abuse. As it got dark, a group of counter-protestors moved up to the street corner and waved Trump flags, drawing honks from trucks passing by.
Across the street, a lone demonstrator remained. Braden Vick, who said he’d just gotten off work at a nearby brewery, held a sign that read “Stop Racism.”
“It’s a pizza box,” he said. “I just grabbed a permanent marker and went to work on a pizza box when I was done. Clocked out and came down here for a minute.” Vick said he hopes people will get engaged and vote Trump out of office this fall. “Fingers crossed, something might change.”
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