It’s a dangerous time to be a controversial statue in America.
Monuments of Confederate leaders have been removed in several Southern cities, where leaders say statues honoring the men who fought to defend slavery don’t reflect the sentiments of 21st century constituents – and should come down.
Constituents in other places have taken matters into their own hands, climbing ladders and attaching ropes to the statues, pulling them down and then posting the amateur demolition efforts on social media.
The tension was stoked by a deadly far-right rally in Charlottesville, which began in opposition to the city’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Such controversial monuments have emerged as large, looming targets in some of the most heated debates in 2017 America.
The nearly 70-foot granite column and statue of Christopher Columbus in New York is part of a heated debate.
The monument, which sits in the center of Columbus Circle in Midtown Manhattan, is under 24/7 guard by New York police in advance of Columbus Day, the increasingly controversial federal and state holiday, according to Newsweek. That round-the-clock guard puts the statue on par with other high-profile targets like the Brooklyn Bridge and the United Nations building.
The Columbus Circle monument and another statue of the explorer in the city were vandalized twice in September – once with red paint, and another time with pink nail polish.
Daniel Kimery, 38, the suspected wielder of the nail polish, said it symbolized the blood on Columbus’s hands, according to the New York Post.
A 7-foot-tall Columbus statue in Central Park was spray-painted with the words “Hate will not be tolerated.” And his hands were covered in red ink, according to the Post. The defacer is still at large.
Authorities fear that more vandalism could come as emotions rise before Columbus Day, which comes Monday.
In a statement to Newsweek, New York police said: “In light of recent vandalism, the NYPD has assigned patrol resources to maintain a post in the vicinity of the Columbus Statue.”
Columbus, for anyone who was absent on that day in school, is widely heralded as the man who discovered America. He was an Italian, sailing under a Spanish flag looking for a faster route to India – and its spices. Instead, his boats first beached on islands now known as the Bahamas and other isles of the Caribbean. His voyages ignited a wave of colonialism in what Europeans called the New World.
But, as Native Americans have pointed out for quite some time, the New World wasn’t so new to the people who had inhabited it for centuries. And they see Columbus less as a man who ignited a wave of European prosperity, and more as a foreign conqueror who enslaved natives, raped women and crushed civilizations.
Critics have mobilized and encouraged the federal and state governments to strike Columbus Day from the calendar – and cities across the nation have begun to take heed.
Last year, nearly 30 cities across the United States celebrated Native Americans on the second Monday in October, while state and federal governments observed Columbus Day, as The Washington Post’s Kristine Phillips reported.
But Columbus still stands in the New York traffic circle also named for him, one hand on his hip, gazing into the distance, with a policeman standing watch nearby.
The guard, however, may not be enough to ensure the statue’s long-term survival.
After the events in Charlottesville, which included a woman killed by a driver who plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed a commission to help determine what the city should do about New York monuments he called “symbols of hate.”
“After the violent events in Charlottesville, New York City will conduct a 90-day review of all symbols of hate on city property.
– Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) August 16, 2017”
After he posted the announcement on Twitter, there were many, many suggestions about which statues needed to come down.
Chief among them were requests for the statue of a certain controversial Italian explorer.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Cleve R. Wootson Jr.