Anti-racism protests sweep the US leaving toppled Columbus statues in their wake

By: AFP      Published: 07:41 PM, 11 Jun, 2020
Anti-racism protests sweep the US leaving toppled Columbus statues in their wake

Statues of Christopher Columbus from Boston to Miami have been beheaded and vandalized as calls to remove sculptures commemorating colonizers and slavers sweep America on the back of anti-racism protests sparked by the death of George Floyd.

Italian explorer Columbus, long hailed by school textbooks as the so-called discoverer of "The New World," is considered by many to have spurred years of genocide against indigenous groups.

A statue of the navigator standing on a prominent plinth in central Boston was beheaded overnight, police said Wednesday.

Almost 2,400 kilometers (1,500 miles) away in Florida, another memorial at a waterfront park in downtown Miami was defaced, with red paint sprayed on its hands alongside messages that read "Our streets," "Black Lives Matter" and "George Floyd".

"That man literally has blood on his hands. Us putting the fist on his chest and the blood on his hands is symbolic," one protester told the Miami Herald.

And in Minnesota -- where Floyd died in police custody on May 25 -- protesters on Wednesday tied ropes around the neck of a Columbus statue outside the state Capitol and hauled it down to cheers and applause, images from CBS affiliate WCCO showed.

At least a couple of protesters ran to the fallen statue to kick it in the head.

Earlier in the week in Virginia, demonstrators used ropes to pull down the eight-foot (2.44-meter) statue and then dumped it in a nearby lake, the Richmond Times-Dispatch said.

The wave of attacks comes as pressure builds in the United States to rid the country of monuments associated with racism following massive demonstrations over the killing of Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis last month.

Statues of Columbus -- regularly denounced in a similar way to Civil War generals of the pro-slavery south -- have been controversial for years in parts of the US, and many have been vandalized in the past.

A jogger running past the fallen Boston statue Wednesday said she approved of the decapitation. 

"Coming out of the Black Lives Matter protests, I think it's a good thing to capitalize on this momentum," she told AFP, without giving her name.

"Just like black people in this country, indigenous people have also been wronged. I think this movement is pretty powerful and this is very symbolic," she added.

Dozens of American cities have over the years replaced "Columbus Day" in October -- which became a federal holiday in 1937 -- with a day of tribute to indigenous peoples.

But not Boston or New York, which have large Italian-origin communities.

Boston's mayor Marty Walsh condemned the beheading but said the statue would be removed on Wednesday pending a decision about its future, local media reported.

In Portsmouth, Virginia, one person was injured by part of a falling momument as protesters used ropes to drag it to the ground, NBC affiliate WAVY reported late Wednesday.

The attacks on Columbus and Confederate memorials follow a similar incident in Bristol, England, on Sunday when demonstrators toppled a statue of a slave trader and dumped it in a harbor during anti-racism protests.