June 16, 2020
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.
I urge all South Philadelphians attempting to protect the statue to stand down and have your voices heard through the public process.— Jim Kenney (@PhillyMayor) June 16, 2020
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.
We are no longer able to document the ongoing, escalating Marconi Plaza South Philadelphia vigilante incident after @PhillyPolice ordered us to leave or be arrested. We were told we no longer had the right to document this event. pic.twitter.com/U6kRm7owXl— Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) June 14, 2020
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 Rizzo. The 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.