NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Officials from the New Haven City Parks Department removed the Christopher Columbus statue in Wooster Square on Wednesday after it stood on display for nearly 128 years.
Leaders voted to remove the statue from the park just last week.
While many came in support of the removal, others were there pushing back against the decision. Since 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, a crowd of self-identifying Italian Americans gathered in Wooster Square near the statue, calling on the city to keep it in place.
Counter-protesters showed up to support the removal of the statue just before 9 a.m. That’s when tensions between both sides escalated, with chanting, swearing and pushing. Police put up tape to help people maintain social distancing.
“If we’re looking for an American hero who’s done nothing wrong ever, we’ll never have a hero,” said Peter Criscuolo in support of the statute. “If you want to replace history and wash it away, how are we going to go forward?”
“Can you imagine the children just celebrating for no reason just because they’re happy, but then realize the person they were celebrating killed most of their ancestors?” a woman said in support of removing the statue. “Yeah, I definitely want the statue down.”
By the afternoon, a city truck arrived at the park and the area near the statue has been cleared.
The statue then made its way through the streets of New Haven after being removed from Wooster Square to its temporary destination.
The City Parks Department will hold on to the removed statue for the time being and have plans to ask the Knights of Columbus if they would like to take the statue.
On Wednesday afternoon, promptly after the statue was removed, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker released a statement on social media:
He credited the Italian American community for having the statue taken down Wednesday instead of the expected 60 days, which was the timeline given by the parks department last week.
“There were a couple of disappointing moments this morning,” he said. “Things that were said that don’t reflect New Haven’s values, and the fact that there were some skirmishes that broke out they don’t reflect who we are as a city.”
Elicker said the day’s unexpected protest was filled with people for and against taking down the statue and also a group of people that came from outside the city.
He said when he heard a group was forming in Wooster Square, he decided it best not to show up in fear of “escalating the situation.”
He said the Italian community has been pushing to get the statue down for days in fear something might happen to it. Adding that now they can work on putting something up there that is more representative of the community in Wooster Square that also celebrates Italian immigrants.
“We will be working to ensure that we find a different way in partnership with the Italian community to celebrate the legacy of New Haven’s immigrant population and strength of the Italian community in the city.”
Columbus was once portrayed as a noble explorer, but part of that history that’s coming to light more and more in recent months is his destroying and enslaving of indigenous people. That new information is what’s caused the defacing of the statues.