May 25, 2016 at 1:15 AM
ALBUQUERQUE — What began as an assembly of about 1,000 peaceful protesters outside a Donald Trump rally at the Albuquerque Convention Center morphed into madness Tuesday evening when mostly young, raucous rioters joined the ranks, hurling burning T-shirts, rocks and bottles toward the police and police horses trying to contain them.
Several Albuquerque police officers were injured by the projectile rocks, and at least one rioter had been arrested by the end of the night, the department tweeted. Protesters finally dispersed from the city’s downtown streets late Tuesday night, hours after the rally ended, when police in riot gear unloaded pepper spray on the dwindling crowd.
Metal barriers kept the peaceful protesters at bay earlier in the evening as they chanted and held signs in opposition to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s immigration rhetoric, a stance that has isolated Trump from some prominent Latino Republicans in New Mexico, the state with the highest percentage of Hispanics as a portion of population.
But as darkness fell and Trump took the stage inside, the atmosphere grew tense. Some protesters pushed through the metal barriers and rushed toward the convention center entrance. When the rally ended, police wouldn’t allow attendees to exit through the main door because of the mayhem outside.
Reports circulated that a gunshot was fired, leaving a hole in the side of the convention center. Police later said on Twitter that was untrue, and added there was possible damage from a pellet gun. A glass door at the entrance to the center appeared to be broken.
As Trump supporters flooded outside, some clashed with the protesters. People from both sides hurled insults and shoved each other on the sidewalk.
Police eventually formed a line outside the convention center, armed with batons and canisters of pepper spray. Some were on horseback. Protesters challenged the lines of police, but were pushed back onto the sidewalk.
At one point, several male protesters stood on top of a police SUV that was stopped in the middle of the crowd, scurrying over the top of it. Soon after, police on horseback and on foot gradually pushed the protesters away from the convention center.
As rioters hurled both small pebbles and larger rocks at police, authorities remained mostly calm, CNN reported, refraining from arresting those doing the throwing. Police said in a tweet that the original peaceful protesters had dispersed after the rally ended, and those who remained were “only looking to cause trouble and be destructive.”
The air grew thick with smoke as the protesters, smaller in number now, amassed in the intersection outside the convention center and continued shouting profanities. Some hung out of cars stopped in the middle of the street, revving their engines and flying Mexican flags out windows. Others held signs that called Trump a “racist” and “fascist.”
Authorities said they used some kind of smoke to break up the mayhem, but it was not tear gas.
Matthew Vargas, 24, and Ashley Escobar, 20, had been protesting outside Trump’s rally since earlier that evening.
“We don’t like what Trump wants to bring to our country,” Vargas told The Washington Post.
“He’s bringing ignorance,” added Escobar.
A ring of spectators gathered around. At several points the crowd erupted in screams and started to flee from the intersection. CNN journalists filmed live as police continued to push the protesters out of downtown. Footage showed people pushing rolling dumpsters into the paths of police horses and officers. Authorities eventually resorted to violence, shoving one woman to the ground right after she was hit in the face with pepper spray. The incident was broadcast live on television.
Several people in the crowd of protesters came to the woman’s aid as she screamed and held her face, pouring water in her eyes. Many people could be seen taking photos and video on their cellphones.
Not all the observers amidst the mayhem were on the side of the protesters — but they weren’t necessarily Trump supporters either.
Monte Cristo Martinez and his 14-year-old son, Elijah, live not far from the convention center. They came to see what would happen when Donald Trump came to town, and were not exactly elated by what they saw.
“I figured Trump’s gonna be here, nobody likes him, and something’s gonna happen,” Monte Cristo said.
“I don’t think this is right,” he said. “I don’t think this is the way to get things done.”
His son cast an even more critical eye on the protests: “They’re just giving [Trump] what he wants.”
Kayla Epstein reported from Albuquerque, Katie Mettler from Washington.