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Brooklyn pol calls for removal of NYC’s Christopher Columbus statues

Monument Could Be Taken Down Outside the Brooklyn Supreme Court

August 25, 2017 By Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Councilmember Jumaane Williams is calling for the removal of all of the city’s Christopher Columbus statues due to the Italian explorer’s controversial past. He also wants Columbus Park outside Brooklyn Borough Hall and the Kings County Supreme Court to be renamed and for its monument of Columbus to be taken down. Eagle photo by Scott Enman

Following the chaos of Charlottesville, Virginia, and the fight over the removal of confederate monuments across the nation, an unrelated historical figure has also become a target: Christopher Columbus.

While Columbus — who has an American holiday named after him — was an ambitious pioneer, he was also known for his violent tactics used to colonize and oppress Native Americans.

“When we look at history, we have to look at it thoroughly, and [Columbus] is a controversial figure,” said Speaker of the New York City Council and native of Puerto Rico Melissa Mark-Viverito at a press conference on Aug. 21.

“I know some people may take offense to that, but for many of us that come from the Caribbean islands, we see him as a controversial figure.”

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Following the violence in Charlottesville, Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered a 90-day review of every statue and monument on city property that may incite racism, anti-Semitism or bigotry.  

De Blasio is working to form a task force that will evaluate each memorial, and he hopes to create criteria for the erection of future statues.

Due to controversy surrounding Columbus, Mark-Viverito, Councilmember Jumaane Williams (D-Flatbush-East Flatbush-Flatlands) and hundreds of New Yorkers are urging for the removal of the Columbus statue in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle.

In an exclusive interview with the Brooklyn Eagle, Williams explained why he wants to have Columbus statues taken down.  

“I believe that no one can survive the lengths of purity,” Williams said. “We have to create a box where we gauge everyone and say what are the redemptive things that you’ve done, and do they outweigh some of the craziness that you have? I think the answer for Columbus is no.

“He is a symbol of genocide, and most of the things that would go in that redemptive box are actually based on falsehoods like him having discovered America.”

A rally was planned for Friday at 8 p.m. to call on the city to remove the statue of the Italian explorer in Columbus Circle. At press time, an event on Facebook had 104 people attending and 803 expressing interest in going.

“Meet-up at the Columbus Statue at Columbus Circle for a Ceremony to the Ancestors and their descendants affected by Columbus and the [Doctrine] of Discovery,” the event page read.

“Meet-up after the ceremony to discuss strategies to pressure the NY City Council to remove all Columbus Memorials in NYC.”

While the possible removal of the statue in Columbus Circle is garnering the most attention, there is also a park named after the explorer containing a monument of him outside of Brooklyn Borough Hall and Brooklyn Supreme Court in Downtown Brooklyn.

That green also has a statue of the minister Henry Ward Beecher and a bust of former President Robert F. Kennedy.

There is also a park named after the Italian explorer in Lower Manhattan boarded by Bayard, Mulberry, Baxter and Worth streets.

When asked about the likelihood of Columbus statutes coming down, Williams described the difficulty it took him to get a modest plaque installed on Wall Street.

“It took me probably five years or more to get a small plaque put on Wall Street to talk about the open-air market that was there to sell slaves,” he said. “Compare that plaque to a statue of Columbus, there’s not parity.”

Not everyone, however, is in support of the removal of Columbus’ monuments.

Bob Capano, Republican Brooklyn City Council candidate and adjunct professor of history at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told the Eagle last week that, as an Italian-American, he would hate to see a statue of Columbus get taken down.

“The mayor and the speaker are on a collision course with myself and other Italian-American New Yorkers if they think they are they are going to tear down this iconic monument donated to the city by our ancestors,” Capano said.

“Instead of attempting to sow discord among various ethnic groups, perhaps Bill de Blasio and Melissa Mark-Viverito should focus on real issues: Fixing schools that don’t educate, a failing subway system or the homeless crisis,” he said.  

Williams, however, had a response for any Italian-Americans who may feel slighted by the removal of the statues of Columbus.

“I want to make sure that their humanity and their perspective is validated,” said Williams. “For me, it seems like they want to make sure their pride is respected, and that statute in particular represents pride for them at a time when the country was treating them very, very badly — horribly.

“So I want to see how we can encapsulate that pride without venerating somebody that means so much oppression to people and genocide to people, and that’s a worthy discussion to have.”

U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan, who represents Staten Island and South Brooklyn, told de Blasio on Friday that if the statue is removed, he wants it to be donated to the National Parks Service, which controls Great Kills Park on Staten Island.

“Christopher Columbus is a permanent fixture of our national history,” Donovan said. “Rarely can we trace the wheels of progress over 500 years back to the actions of a single person.

“If a radical group bent on sanitizing history doesn’t want the statue at Columbus Circle anymore, Staten Island will gladly accept it.”

 Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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