MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (WTNH) — In the weeks following the death of George Floyd, many Christopher Columbus statues have been vandalized. Some cities have decided to preempt any damage by removing the statues from public areas. One owned by the City of Middletown was suddenly removed on Saturday.
Since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police at the end of May, protests across the nation and the world have erupted calling for an end to police brutality and a crackdown on racism.
Within the unrest, cities across the country began to see a pattern of statues of Confederate leaders and Christopher Columbus – largely criticized for enslaving the native peoples of the Caribbean and the Americas – defaced.
One of the cities here in Connecticut that is working to protect their Columbus statue is Middletown. But Mayor Ben Florsheim says it’s not solely due to the potential for vandalism.
In a message posted to his Facebook page Sunday afternoon, Mayor Florsheim offered an explanation of why the statue was removed.
As many of you know, the City of Middletown owns a statue of Christopher Columbus. It was donated by several groups of local, mostly Italian-American families in the mid-1990s and erected at Harbor Park. As some by now also know, the statue was moved yesterday.
There are a few reasons why. Here is what they are.
First, it has been slated for a temporary move for a while. Maintenance work at Harbor Park, scheduled to start in early July, requires the removal and storage of the statue. The plan was approved at the last meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Second, I have received a large number of calls, emails, and texts in recent days from residents pointing out that statues of Columbus are being taken down in other places across the state and country, either temporarily or permanently, and that they would like to see Middletown do the same. Many of the other statues were removed after being vandalized, which has not happened in Middletown in recent weeks, but has happened several times in the last few years.Mayor Ben Florsheim via Facebook, Sunday, June 14, 2020
Florsheim offered that a temporary move of the statue had already been planned prior to this June 13 removal due to scheduled maintenance work at Harbor Park, a move that had been approved by the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
Maintenance at the park would require the statue to have been removed and stored.
The mayor went on to say that many residents reached out to him expressing that Middletown should follow suit with municipalities in the state and around the country that had either temporarily or permanently removed Columbus statues.
I have received a large number of calls, emails, and texts in recent days from residents pointing out that statues of Columbus are being taken down in other places across the state and country, either temporarily or permanently, and that they would like to see Middletown do the same.
Of course, there are many in Middletown who want it to stay up, too. To the hundreds of people who were involved in the creation and placement of the statue, it has less to do with the historical figure of Columbus and more to do with their own families’ history in Middletown. I spoke to a number of people on both sides of the issue yesterday.Mayor Ben Florsheim via Facebook, Sunday, June 14, 2020
The mayor concluded by saying the construction is slated for a few weeks from now, but he had the statue removed early “rather than wait for something to happen to it.”
He said there is also interest in relocating the statue to a privately owned property important to the Italian/American community rather than taking it down entirely.
“I will continue to share updates on this topic and as always I appreciate hearing what you think,” he said.