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Columbus Statues Should Come Down, Activists Say — But Mayor, Italian Americans Want Them To Stay

"They all need to come down," one alderwoman tweeted.

The Little Italy statue of Christopher Columbus has been defaced numerous times throughout the years. This photo shows vandalism from 2017.
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LITTLE ITALY — The city’s Christopher Columbus statues have been repeatedly vandalized in recent weeks amid renewed calls the monuments should be torn down.

The Christopher Columbus statue in Little Italy’s Arrigo Park recently had the word “killer” sprayed on it, and someone dumped paint on it. In Grant Park, another Columbus statue was spray painted with the words “BLM” and “genocide.”

The statues have now been covered in plastic wrap to keep them from being damaged further.

It’s not the first time the statue in Little Italy was targeted. In October 2017, three men were seen defacing it with red paint. Now and in the past, police officers and community members have tried to protect the statues.

But some Chicagoans say the statues should be removed altogether because of Columbus’ controversial history.

Columbus has long been touted as the man who “discovered” America on Oct. 12, 1492 — even though it was already populated. That’s made him a hero among some Italian Americans. But critics have noted Columbus didn’t discover America and his actions led to mass genocide and crimes, including rape and torture, against Indigenous people.

Fawn E. Pochel, education coordinator for the American Indian Center, said keeping the Columbus statues upholds a history of white supremacy.

“They’re upholding white supremacy and settler colonialism as what’s important in our history, which is based off of the genocide of Native people and placement of Black people and the marginalization of anyone who doesn’t uphold that Christian ideology of what ‘whiteness’ is here in the United States,” Pochel said.

A petition started in early June calls for Mayor Lori Lightfoot to remove the statue in Grant Park. It’s gotten more than 1,200 signatures so far.

And Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd) hinted at plans to remove the statue and other “racist monuments in the city,” saying on Twitter she wanted to make a list of such monuments “for a possible ordinance.” The alderman’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

“They all need to come down,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said in a separate tweet.

But Lightfoot said Thursday she opposes removing the statutes because they can teach people about the history of the United States.

“I know that the issue of Columbus, Columbus Day is an issue of great discussion, but I think that the way in which we educate our young people in particular about the history is to educate them about the full history,” Lightfoot said during a press conference.

In February, Lightfoot also defended the city’s decision to keep celebrating Columbus Day instead of Indigenous Peoples Day.

Lissa Druss, a spokeswoman from the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said there can be “healthy debates” about many historic figures in United States history.

“For Italian Americans, Christopher Columbus represents a lot of our culture and history that we’ve contributed to our great nation,” Druss said. “What is going on in our world right now, and especially with the attack on the statue and other statues, this is not just an Italian American issue. This is an issue of all ethnicities. We are stronger together than divided apart.

“Especially in Chicago, we are overwhelmingly proud of the relationships that Italian Americans have with other ethnicities.”

Druss said she hoped there can be “strong, healthy conversations” about history and how to move forward to celebrate “all ethnicities.”

Pochel said that the country should continue to learn about historical figures like Columbus, but that education should be done thoughtfully.

“I think we need to look at the narrative that we’re putting out. And the fact that we’re putting these men on literal pedestals saying, ‘This is our values’ — that perpetuates a dehumanizing process that disproportionately perpetuate violence against Black, Indigenous people of color and other marginalized groups,” she said.

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