WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — News 8 confirmed Independence Day morning the Christopher Columbus statue at Waterbury City Hall had been vandalized. The statue had been beheaded at the beginning of a day full of tension in the Brass City.
Throughout the day, a steady stream of curious onlookers drove past city hall and the statue to catch a glimpse of it and take pictures.
This comes just days after a fiery debate about its removal.
News 8 reached out to Mayor Neil O’Leary, and he released a statement Saturday evening saying,
I am deeply disappointed and disturbed by the destruction inflicted upon the Christopher Columbus statue today. The City of Waterbury, and I as Mayor, are deeply committed to taking action to address the impact and inequities caused by systemic racism. However, this type of behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O’Leary
The mayor was also asked about the statue at a recent radio town hall forum.
“We’re hearing very loud and very clear from our Italian-American population that they absolutely do not want the statue taken down. They look at it as their legacy,” the mayor told town hall listeners.
There was also a protest against police brutality and Christopher Columbus Saturday afternoon, where protesters marched from City Hall to the Town Green.
There is no known connection between Saturday’s rally and the statue vandalism.
One protest organizer told News 8 they are against leaving the statue up and they’re trying to get the mayor to remove it and perhaps place it on a local museum — out of sight from the front lawn of Waterbury City Hall.
Protest organizer Fahd Syed told News 8, “The Black and Brown community has spoken. They don’t feel welcome with that statue here. It’s a symbol of hate. It’s a symbol of racism.”
Folks from around the area, either in support or in opposition of Columbus, visited the statue throughout the day. Wreaths were placed beside the statue and around the statue’s neck later Saturday morning.
Dr. Robert Porzio was the Chairman of the Waterbury’s UNICO chapter in 1982. He recalled it took two years for the group to raise the money for this statue. It was put in place and dedicated in 1984.
“What we celebrate is his ability to come back and forth four different times over 500 years ago and be within 50 miles of the same spot,” Porzio said.
Columbus landed around Cuba and the Bahamas, but never reached North America, according to Porzio.
“Because we know he did not discover America,” said Athena Wagner, of Waterbury. “We also know that he’s responsible for things like genocide, sex trafficking, slave trade, and natural murder.”
“I’m of the firm belief that we need to learn from our past and not destroy it,” one man said.
David X. Sullivan, who is running for U.S. Congress, said he was ‘troubled’ by what happened to the statue.
“This was a gift to the City of Waterbury from the Italian-Americans, and it’s unfortunate that it’s been desecrated in this manner,” Sullivan said.
Chelsea Fann from Torrington said, “I just feel like it shouldn’t be here, I feel like it’s disrespectful to the Black community.”
Rob Williams from Waterbury said, “It’s unfortunate it had to go this way. I think action did need to happen, but it didn’t need to happen like this.”
Wednesday, the Police Department reported they have located the head of the statue. The mayor says he doesn’t know yet if the statue will fixed, removed, or left alone.
Only a few days ago – Sunday, July 5 – Waterbury UNICO announced a reward of $5,000 for anyone with information leading to an arrest in the vandalism. Anyone with information is asked to call Waterbury Police.
“We are saddened by this action of violence,” they said, “as it does not represent the message of thanksgiving the statue embodies to the Italian-American community.”
Donations to restore the statue can be sent to Waterbury UNICO, PO Box 933, Waterbury, CT 06721.
Waterbury Police said this is an open investigation. Anyone with information is asked to call Waterbury police at (203) 574-6941.