People gathered at the Albuquerque Indian Center Friday morning to remember two homeless men who were beaten to death as they slept in a park last week.
Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson were both Native American, and their murders have drawn attention to ongoing violence against Native Americans in New Mexico.
Around 150 people marched silently down East Central Avenue carrying signs that read “stop the violence,” “end racism,” and “pray for homeless natives.”
Many in the mostly Native American crowd were visibly shaken - some quiet and determined, others angry - as they walked to the beat of a drum.
But the marchers seemed to be of one mind - that the murders of Gorman and Thompson, while especially brutal, were only the latest episode of a widespread pattern of discrimination and violence against Native Americans in New Mexico.
“These are my people, my Pueblo and my Navajo people. They killed my people,” said a woman named Arika, who didn’t want to give her last name. She said she’ s been a victim of discrimination in Albuquerque and that her husband was murdered on the very street where the march was taking place. Arika said she believes his murder was racially motivated.
Another marcher, Crystal Saltwater, who is transgender, said violence and discrimination are especially harsh for gay Native Americans.
“They’ve already beat my boyfriend to death,” Saltwater said. “What’s Albuquerque going to bring next? Hatred? I don’t want to be doing this, but I love my boyfriend and I can’t bring him back. If this had happened to a white guy…they beat him because he is gay.”
March organizer Gordon Yawakia said he knew the victims of last Friday’s vicious attack from his work at the Albuquerque Indian Center, where the two men had come seeking assistance.
"The reason we’re doing this is to raise awareness of our native people getting assaulted on the street. I myself have been assaulted," Yawakia said. "It’s like, you’re sitting at a bus stop and you see eggs flying out of a car, or rocks being thrown at you. We get oppressed all the time, and it's just becoming common nature. We just want everyone to be aware of what goes on in our communities, and try to make it safe."
Navajo Nation leaders have called for the killings to be treated as hate crimes and have asked for an FBI investigation.