NEW LONDON/NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — The Black Lives Matter movement made its way through the streets of New London and New Haven. But days after the marches in both cities, statues of the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus were found vandalized.
While the protest in New London was mostly peaceful, vandals did damage the statue of Christopher Columbus who landed in the Bahamas before coming to America. He is widely criticized for enslaving the native populations of the Caribbean Islands.
“He enslaved the native populations there and he doesn’t represent what New London is,” said New London resident Tessa Rock, who started a petition seeking support to have the statue removed from her hometown which she loves because of its diversity.
The petition on change.org now has more than 6,500 signatures.
“Anywhere you go you can learn someone’s culture and it’s amazing,” said Rock.
A can of spray paint and a Black Lives Matter sign were left behind the Italian marble statue, which still has red paint covering its granite base.
“We did remove the paint two or three times and what we’re finding is that the more we do it, the more we risk damaging the artifact,” said Mayor Michael Passero.
When the statue was first given to the city by the Italian community in 1928, it did not have the same connotation as it does today. It was simply a gift from Italian immigrants to say thank you to New London for welcoming them.
The crowds surrounding the statue more than 90 years ago show celebration where today controversy surrounds the once iconic figure.
“Now that we know Christopher Columbus’s true self, what he truly did, we can’t still commemorate him,” said Rock.
“It’s a very valid debate and it’s actually interesting that we’ve never had that debate,” said Mayor Passero.
That debate is expected to be heard at the city council meeting Monday night. The council could vote on the issue then.
In the meantime, the mayor made an executive decision to remove it from the public space before more damage is done.
Rock would rather see a statue memorializing the African captives who led the revolt on the Amistad back in the 1839.
“We should have something positive,” said Rock.
The boat was brought to port in New London where it stayed until the captives won their freedom in court.
In New Haven Thursday, controversy over a Columbus statue in Wooster Square. It was vandalized with red paint. And this is not the first time.
In 2017, it was splattered with red paint that is still there today.
John Bronke who lives nearby told News 8 Thursday, a sign saying “Decolonize this space” was placed at the foot of the statue this week.
“I assume it refers to some of the dark sides of Columbus’ history,” he said. “I think change is certainly not linear. It’s very uncomfortable and it can be painful at times, but certainly necessary.”
An East Haven resident walking through the square, Sal Gambardella, added, “Don’t get any ideas about taking this down. You’ll be in a lot of trouble; this is an Italian neighborhood. The man who discovered America for you, you, and me.”
Columbus statues have been vandalized all over the country. In Houston, vandals splattered one with red paint. Additionally, a 900-pound marble monument to Columbus in Boston’s North End was removed yesterday by city workers after it was beheaded by protesters.
And it’s not just Columbus statues. Around the country, many monuments meant to memorialize the Confederacy have also been vandalized – more so in recent weeks since the death of George Floyd. In the wake of recent protests and demonstrations against racism and police brutality, some see these images as symbols of systemic racism.