After white supremacists gathered at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in mid-August to protest the city’s plan to removed Confederate monuments, Geraldo Rivera asked whether knocking down Christopher Columbus statues would follow. Given this year’s conversation surrounding the removal of statues honoring figures who categorized people of color as subhuman, it’s not a surprise that this topic is once again resurfacing on the second Monday of the month, a day still known in many parts of the country as Columbus Day. (Cities have in recent years replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.) In New York City’s Columbus Circle, NYPD has protected the statue 24/7 in the days leading up to October 9 should someone attempt to vandalize it, according to the New York Post.
This move doesn’t come out of nowhere. A few weeks ago, 27-year-old Yonkers resident Emmanuel Santiago Batista beheaded a Columbus statue. According to NBC New York, the statue’s head ended up in a plastic bag in Columbus Memorial Park. And in Central Park in September, someone painted a more than 100-year-old Columbus statue’s hands red, The New York Times reports. In Baltimore – the location of the supposed first-ever Columbus statue erected in the US – was also vandalized in August. In video footage of the incident, a man who says his name is Ty, calls Columbus a “genocidal terrorist.”
To the Italian-American community, Columbus – who never stepped foot in what is today the United States – remains an important part of their history. The first Columbus Day dates back to the 1890s, a time when Italians were targets of anti-immigrant sentiments. However, extolling Columbus as hero glosses over that he was a violent instigator of genocide. He enslaved, forcibly enslaved, and stole property. Much like with other Confederate figures, placing Columbus on a pedestal is wrong.
Here are a few more Columbus statues vandalized around the country: