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June 16, 2020

Philly's Christopher Columbus statue boxed up until fate determined

Mayor Kenney calls for public process evaluating controversial monument

Art Statues
columbus statue marconi plaza Street View/GoogleMaps

A statue of Christopher Columbus in Marconi Plaza was boarded up to prevent possible damage while the city evaluates the monument's future.

The Christopher Columbus statue in South Philadelphia was boarded up Tuesday after an armed group defending the statue clashed with protesters calling for its removal. 

Wooden boards were placed around the statue in Marconi Plaza to preserve the sculpture while its future is determined. 

Mayor Jim Kenney urged Public Art Director Margot Berg to initiate a public process through the Philadelphia Art Commission to consider the statue's removal. His said a process that allows for all viewpoints, including those of indigenous people, would be in the city's best interest.

Monuments honoring the Italian explorer have fallen under greater scrutiny in recent weeks. Protesters have defaced numerous Columbus monuments across the United States. Some cities, including Camden, have removed them, viewing them as symbols of oppression

In a letter to Berg, Kenney acknowledged Columbus has long been credited with discovering a "New World" despite the presence of indigenous people. Kenney also briefly detailed Columbus' history of enslaving indigenous people and the violent punishments he enacted.

“Surely, the totality of this history must be accounted for when considering whether to maintain a monument to this person," Kenney said in a statement. "Given that many are now calling for the removal of the statue, and others believe it should remain, I have directed the Art Commission to review the statue, its location and its appropriateness in a public park. We are committed to listening to all points of view and moving forward in the best way to heal our deep divides."

Kenney again called for the South Philly residents gathering in defense of the statue to stand down and instead submit public comments in the upcoming review. 

Around 100 people, some armed with guns, baseball bats, golf clubs and sticks, began gathering around the monument on Saturday. They reportedly said they sought to prevent vandalism and defend their Italian heritage. 

A reporter from the outlet Unicorn Riot filming the vigilante group was allegedly assaulted Saturday by some in the crowd. A video shows the reporter being attacked and verbally harassed. His bike tires also were slashed. 

Unicorn Riot, a nonprofit outlet dedicated to "exposing root causes of dynamic social and environmental issues," later recorded a video of Police Capt. Lou Campione barring its reporter from the scene, claiming he was inciting a riot. 

Campione since has been removed from his post in the First District, according to the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5, the local police union. The FOP condemned his removal, claiming Campione diffused a "volatile and chaotic situation." 

Protesters calling for the statue's removal also began gathering at Marconi Plaza, saying the Columbus statue a monument to America's racist history and oppression of indigenous people. 

Some supporters of the Columbus statue have launched a legal battle in hopes of preventing the statue from being removed discretely, as the city did with the state of former Mayor Frank RizzoThe 1492 Society, which organizes Philadelphia's annual Columbus Day Parade, is among those seeking to bar the statue's removal.

Kenney's office said the city has not decided whether the Columbus statue will be removed. 

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