By Susannah Abbey
La’Quonte Barry, founder of the Black New Mexico Movement (BNMM), was concerned. A recent Black Lives Matter rally had been disrupted by the New Mexico Civil Guard, a self-proclaimed militia, and Cowboys 4 Trump, when members of these groups pointed guns at the protesters as they walked home after the march.
Barry decided he would bring his own gun next time. It wasn’t a political statement, but a purely practical matter. “I always had guns…it’s better to be safe than sorry,” he said. The next time was a July 19 protest organized by right-wing extremists who objected to mask-wearing and other COVID-19 restrictions put in place by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. They called it “I can’t breathe,” apparently a bit of playground snark meant to denigrate George Floyd and BLM. Barry and other BNMM members showed up to counter-protest.
“I was getting out of my car; I had my gun strapped to my bookbag. I could see a police helicopter overhead—I knew they had been watching us,” Barry said. As he entered Civic Plaza, two police officers approached and let him know that guns were no longer permitted on Civic Plaza, a rule instated after NM Civil Guard member Stephen Ray Baca allegedly shot a man protesting the Albuquerque Museum’s “La Jornada” statue.
Barry thanked the officers and walked to the microphone to inform the other protesters about the new rule, but was arrested before he could do so. He was detained for 45 minutes then released, after which he immediately rejoined the protest.
“I wasn’t afraid—I didn’t know if I was going to have to sit in jail or what [but] I knew that it was all going to come back to my favor some type of way…People were cheering for us when we came back,” the organizer continued.
Of the three people detained and cited for violating the new rule, one was a white militia member, who was not officially charged. On top of this, the arrests occurred only a few days after another group of right-wing extremists showed up to Civic Plaza carrying assault weapons. There had been no arrests made that day. This fact created an equal protection violation, which Barry’s lawyer used to sue the City of Albuquerque. Barry was awarded $40,000 in damages.
Barry had no regrets about carrying his gun to the protest.
“I live life as a free black man; I have the same rights as everyone else here in America,” he asserted. Barry is currently working with Interim Chief Harold Medina to help make the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) more responsive to the community.
Despite calls to defund the police, Barry acknowledges “the police aren’t going anywhere. We have to be willing to sit in a room together and have uncomfortable conversations. APD came to me and said hey, ‘we know that we did wrong.’ That means something. Since I’ve been talking with Medina, I can see he is working toward progress.” Barry cites the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, which passed the House on February 16, as evidence of this progress.
With the settlement money Barry started his own business, Grandma’s House BBQ.
“For 10 years I dreamed of having a food truck and be my own boss.”Anyone wishing to get involved in the Black New Mexico Movement can follow them on their Facebook page. Grandma’s House BBQ is open Wednesdays and Sundays from 12:00 to 6:00pm. Go to https://grandmas-house-bbq.business.site/ or Facebook