PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Crews removed the plywood box that had been placed atop a statue of Christopher Columbus in Philadelphia that was the scene of tense clashes in 2020 between supporters of the monument and opponents who he saw it as a symbol of white supremacy.
The box was removed Sunday night as a small crowd of supporters of the statue applauded. The job arrived two days after a state judge ordered the removal of the boxsaying that if the city does not agree with the “message” that the statue sends, it can add its own plaque with what it wants to convey.
The statue has been the subject of a longstanding dispute between the city and the Friends of Marconi Plaza, where the image is located. Dating from 1876, it was presented to the city by the Italian-American community to commemorate the nation’s centennial, according to the state’s Commonwealth Court’s 16-page ruling.
Supporters say they consider Colón emblematic of the city’s deep Italian heritage. George Bochetto, a lawyer representing the Friends of Marconi Plaza, said he was “delighted” by the ruling, telling WPVI-TV in a statement that “we are not a society ruled by cancel culture mobs” and that “all ethnic groups can proudly protect and honor their diverse heritages.”
Kevin Lessard, a spokesman for Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney, said Friday that the ruling disappointed officials.
“We will also continue to explore our options to find a way forward that allows Philadelphians to celebrate their heritage and culture while respecting everyone’s different background histories and circumstances,” Lessard said.
Kenney has said that Columbus was revered for centuries as an explorer, but had a “far more infamous” history, enslaving indigenous people and imposing punishments such as amputation of limbs or even death.
In May 2020, protesters across the country demonstrated against police brutality and racism following the murder of George Floyd. Some in Philadelphia took aim at the Columbus statue, arguing that the explorer’s actions should not be celebrated. In response, supporters of the statue began to gather around it — some with guns or baseball bats — and said they intended to protect it from vandals.
Around that time, statues of the Italian explorer were removed in nearby Camden, New Jersey, and Wilmington, Delaware, while protesters in richmond, Virginia, toppled a statue of Columbus, set it on fire, and threw it into a lake.
Kenney called for the removal of the Philadelphia statue, arguing it was a matter of public safety, and a panel of city arts and historical commission in 2020 they both agreed to go ahead with the removal of the statue.
But last year a judge reversed the city’s decision, saying it had provided no evidence that removal of the statue was necessary to protect the public.
The box that covers the statue had been painted with green, white and red bands, reflecting the Italian flag, at the request of the councilor representing the district.
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