Organizers and supporters including Jacob Johns celebrate Rio Arriba County’s postponement of putting back a statue of the war criminal and Spanish colonizer Juan de Oñate that officials removed in 2020. (Photo by Anna Padilla for Source NM)
The person recorded on video shooting a Hopi, Akimel O’odham activist in Española on Sept. 28 is being prosecuted by the state of New Mexico for attempted murder and aggravated assault.
Meanwhile, the victim, Jacob Johns, along with civil society groups in and outside of New Mexico, are asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute the shooter for a hate crime under federal law.
John Day, Johns’ attorney, said the shooter’s actions against the Indigenous activist and artist meet all of the elements of a hate crime. He said his client had gathered with others in a religious ceremony and a peaceful prayer event outside the Rio Arriba County headquarters in Española.
“This is a hate crime,” Day said in a news release on Monday. “It needs to be recognized and prosecuted as such.”
The DOJ, through the N.M. District Office for the U.S. Attorney, would be the agency with the jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute the shooter seen on video and in person, Ryan Martinez, for a hate crime.
Reached for comment on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the office declined to respond to questions about whether they are investigating Martinez for any federal hate crime charges related to the incident, and whether the office will prosecute him for any federal hate crime charges.
“As a matter of policy, the U.S. Attorney’s Office can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any investigation,” the spokesperson said in a written statement to Source NM.
Johns’ family “remains hopeful that the U.S. Department of Justice will address this as a federal hate crime matter,” Day said.
As of Tuesday, Johns was still at University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque and his condition is unstable, Day said. Hospital staff have scheduled and then delayed multiple surgeries because they’re worried he couldn’t make it through the medical procedures, Day said.
Day said his client’s heroism in protecting the lives of innocent people, including children, is important on its own but said there is a larger principle at stake: “We cannot afford to minimize or normalize targeting lawful, peaceful assembly of people with violent crime because they belong to a different group.”
“It threatens anyone’s right to peaceably assemble or simply belong to a faith community,” Day said. “It should concern all people, whatever faith or community you belong to.”
‘The whole world saw it’
Day said he has not sent a letter or any other formal request to the federal government asking them to pursue hate crime charges against the shooter, because that’s not how the federal hate crime statute works.
“The whole world saw it and it would be troubling if the DOJ had to be formally asked to investigate and prosecute it as a hate crime,” Day said.
It is not just Johns’ family and attorney who think what the shooter did was a hate crime.
On Tuesday, the 25th Navajo Nation Council issued a joint statement condemning the shooter. Council Speaker Crystalyne Curley asked the DOJ, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and state authorities to “investigate the shooting as a hate crime and terrorist attack.”
Navajo Nation citizens were also present at the peaceful gathering.
“The right of people to peacefully assemble is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” Council Delegate Carl Roessel Slater said. “No one should ever fear for their life for exercising their rights. What happened in Española is a travesty and the shooter needs to be held accountable for his disregard of humanity in this hateful act of terrorism.”
Day also pointed to the shooter’s previous interactions with the FBI, who interviewed him about his posts on social media that suggested a violent attack on the country’s central banking system.
The morning after the shooting, Janene Yazzie, Southwest Regional Director of NDN Collective, posted on social media that what the shooter did was a hate crime.
“There was absolutely no reason why this peaceful, spiritual demonstration should have faced this level of violence 500 feet from the sheriff’s office,” Yazzie wrote.
That afternoon, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico referred to the shooter’s actions as an “act of racist and hateful violence.”
“We stand firmly against violence or aggression threatening the safety and well-being of those who peacefully gather in prayer,” ACLU-NM said.
Also on Sept. 29, Millions for Prisoners New Mexico described the incident as a “racially motivated shooting” and “white supremacist violence.”
Writing of Johns, the group wrote: “This inspirational man has put his life on the line over and over again to make a better world for his fellow humans, and now he and his family need your support to recover from this terrible hate crime.”
Níhi K’é Ba’ Mutual Aid, an Indigenous mutual aid organization in the Four Corners region, said on Oct. 3 the shooting “must be recognized as the racially motivated hate crime that it is at all levels of government.”
While not going so far as to refer to the shooting as a hate crime, the Democratic Party of New Mexico described the shooter on social media on Sept. 30 as “a right-wing extremist.”
“We call for unity, for all people to recognize and understand this hate crime for what it is: a threat to all peaceful assembly,” Yazzie said Monday. “And we call for justice for Jacob and for all Indigenous People living under this threat.”
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