A religious protest Sunday afternoon ended a little differently than organizers anticipated.
About an hour into the Faith Over Fear protest in the empty parking lot of the old Smith’s Grocery on California Street, officers from the Socorro Police Department and the New Mexico State Police arrived.
They were there at the request of Socorro Mayor Ravi Bhasker to remind the 100-plus people at the protest to comply with the state’s public health order for COVID-19 prevention — maintaining a six-foot distance from people who aren’t a member of the same household and wearing face coverings.
“I directed them out there,” Bhasker said Monday. “They were not socially distancing, there were no masks and they were on a piece of property that was not theirs.
“I started seeing pictures (of the event) on social media and told the chief to call the state police. They asked them to distance and handed out masks. I’m not sure what they were trying to prove.”
This was the second Faith Over Fear protest in the area since September. The first was held in Belen and drew nearly 300 people who, like those gathered in Socorro, mostly went without masks during the event.
Randy Corely, the pastor at Family Christian Center in Socorro, organized the protest with the help of churches and religious leaders from Valencia County. Faith Over Fear is a grassroots movement centered around the idea that while the coronavirus and COVID-19 infection are real, people should put their faith in Jesus Christ during the pandemic.
“We’ve allowed fear to control us,” said Pastor Greg MacPherson, First Assembly of God in Belen. “We are here to give hope to the hopeless in Socorro. Too many people are looking for help and the church is silent.”
Shortly before 6 p.m., SPD officers arrived at the parking lot and spoke to Corely, who told the crowd, “we’ve just been served. The police department has asked us not to do this. Don’t get mad at them. I told them it was our constitutional right to do this.”
He asked everyone to move to the sidewalk and spread out, while they continued to pray, which they did.
Two masked New Mexico State Police officers walked along the sidewalk, offering disposable masks to the participants, most of which were declined.
They were stopped on more than one occasion as protesters prayed over them.
“We want to let people know fear doesn’t have power over them,” Corley said. “We want to unite the churches and see the church in action.”
Despite being on the property without the permission of the owner, Corley was insistent the group had a constitutionally protected right to protest there.
Bhasker didn’t agree, saying the property owner and realtor for the property have asked the city to keep people off the lot.
“We are very respectful of prayer but when they don’t respect the rules, coming from outside the city, we can’t accept that,” the mayor said. “We plan to cite Randy (Corley) for not following the health orders for face coverings and distancing, and for being on the property without permission.”
He continued, saying if Corely had come to the city about holding a peaceful protest, they would have been happy to work with the group.
“We would have worked with them to have it somewhere, maybe the plaza, if they had spaced out and worn face coverings,” Bhasker said.
“I can’t understand why a person with any consideration for another person, why they wouldn’t protect themselves and other people.”
UPDATE: (As of Wednesday, Oct. 21, there were 191 positive cases of COVID-19 in Socorro County, 8 deaths, 78 recovered cases, for a total of 105 active cases.)
The mayor said the city also cited the people who hosted multiple parties over the weekend attended by 50 to 100 New Mexico Tech students. The school closed its campus for the day on Monday, Oct. 19, and ordered students who attended the parties to self-isolate.
“It’s unfortunate. We are never going to get past this if people are totally ignorant in how they are going to handle themselves,” Bhasker said.
Lilia Limbert came from Magdalena to attend the protest, saying she was there praying for the “misinformation and fear that has taken over our country. I check sources like the CDC and WHO, and there is a lot of misinformation in this country.”
Calling Jesus the lord of lords, Melissa Ashby, of Socorro, said he was the healer of our land.
“He wants us to repent,” Ashby said. “We are here to repent on behalf of the people of Socorro and all nations.”
Socorro resident Amanda Rottman said she was there because it’s important to “stand up as a community and to pray for our community.”