Before getting into this, I think it's important to point out that I'm writing this column from a free press zone, so I shouldn't be arrested for anything I say.
Going to the Plaza right before noon to have my traditional Friday afternoon Fiesta lunch, I had to marvel at how few people were in line at the food booths. The lines were so short it was stunning. "It's those silly protesters," said the lady taking my green chile cheeseburger order. "People are afraid to come down here. And these protesters aren't even from here. They're from South Dakota and California. They don't know anything about Santa Fe. They don't know anything about Fiestas."
I held my tongue -- usually not a good idea to argue with people about to prepare your food. But I knew she was wrong. And in fact, the list of the eight people who later would be arrested that day for the Entrada protest shows that at least six of them are from New Mexico. (One guy is from California. Another's address isn't on initial court records.)
So what we have here is a homegrown conflict -- not a case of "outside agitators" trying to stir up trouble in our innocent little burg with crazy outsider ideas. This is something that Santa Fe is going to have to deal with ourselves -- and not just with a massive police presence.
I was on the Plaza for the controversial Entrada. In an effort to avoid protesters, organizers moved it up from 2 p.m. to noon. It might not have been a peaceful reconquest, but, this year at least, it was a sneaky reconquest. And technically it seemed to work. When Don Diego de Vargas and his crew came in, there was only one vocal protester on the Plaza, a guy in a headdress who shouted throughout the reenactment. But the number of nonprotesting spectators seemed to be way down as well. I'm not sure what was accomplished by changing the schedule at the last minute.
Of course, the number of protesters began to grow, and by the end of the afternoon, police arrested eight people. The first arrests happened when police insisted on moving the demonstrators -- who at the time numbered about two dozen -- from in front of the bandstand to a "free speech zone" a few yards away.
Free speech zone. That's a much-ridiculed concept and rightly so. I saw many people react on social media with, "I thought the whole country was a free speech zone" or similar statements.
The first time I ever saw a free speech zone was at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. It was a a stark area surrounded by a fence topped with razor wire under elevated train tracks about a five-minute walk from the Fleet Center, where the convention was being held. Armed National Guardsmen in camouflage watched from the track directly above the stage. A few stray gawkers, a handful of bored looking journalists and a couple of Boston cops who looked even more bored listened -- kind of -- to people ranting about the CIA or whatever. It was depressing.
I was outraged Friday night when I heard that the arrested protesters would have to spend the night in jail. Most of them were there on trespassing charges -- trespassing on public streets. How was anyone protected by keeping these folks behind bars for so long?
And I was astonished that one of the protesters, Jennifer Marley, a 21-year-old University of New Mexico student from San Ildefonso Pueblo, was charged with felonies. Police claimed she hit two officers with a cardboard sign she was holding.
Last week I viewed several police videos made of Marley's arrest near the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Marcy Street and the moments leading up to it. If a violent felony were committed, it was not captured on any of those videos. Police Chief Patrick Gallagher has said much the same thing. The chief says you don't see anyone being hit; you can see Marley "swinging" her sign. But I didn't see that.
In one of the videos, posted on this paper's website Wednesday, Marley, who was holding signs in each hand, appeared to flick one of her wrists suddenly. But a viewer doesn't see the sign strike or even touch anyone or anything. About a minute later, a police officer grabbed her from behind and subdued her.
If this is the best evidence the state has, then District Attorney Marco Serna would be foolish to pursue felony charges. Time and energy would be better spent having a serious public debate on the Entrada and what can be done to make Fiesta a celebration for all of us.