Two statues of Italian explorer and colonizer Christopher Columbus have been destroyed in Richmond, Va., and Boston, Mass., amid protests against police brutality and centuries of racism that led up to the death of George Floyd.
Protesters in Richmond, Va., brought down a Columbus statue in the city’s Byrd Park on Tuesday night after several activists denounced him as a racist figure of white supremacy. They threw ropes around the statue and hauled it down from its pedestal, then set it on fire and rolled it into a nearby lake, NBC 12 reports.
Several individuals scrawled graffiti on the pedestal base, and the statue was replaced with a sign that read: “Columbus represents genocide.”
The 15th-century explorer has long been hailed as the first person to find the so-called “New World” — a Eurocentric view that the historical record shows is false. Indigenous people were living in North and South America long before Columbus arrived, and the ancient Vikings had also paid many visits to the North American continent before Columbus’ famous arrival.
Columbus also presided over the killing and enslavement of Indigenous people in North America after declaring it the property of the Spanish.
A police helicopter hovered overhead during the protest in Richmond, but officers were not in the park during the event. NBC says one of its photographers was grabbed, but he returned to work. Otherwise, no arrests were made, and no one was seriously hurt during the destruction of the statue.
The statue came down following a passionate speech from activist Chelsea Higgs-Wise, who linked it to the centuries-long struggles of Indigenous and African-American people in the United States.
“We have to start where it all began,” she said. “We have to start with the people who stood first on this land.”
Several Indigenous speakers also denounced the statue and white supremacy before it came down.
The statue was built in the early 1920s and was the first Columbus statue in the South.
City staff removed the statue from the lake on Wednesday morning, a spokesperson for the recreation department told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Another Christopher Columbus statue was beheaded in Boston’s Christopher Columbus Park overnight, local station WCVB reports. The headless statue was reported to police Wednesday morning, but it’s unclear who took the head off.
Anti-racism protesters around the world have started turning their attention to statues of problematic historical figures in recent days, tearing down depictions of explorers, kings, generals and politicians who supported or benefited from racist policies.
A statue of Belgian King Leopold II, who exploited people in Congo and presided over millions of deaths, was taken down in Antwerp on Tuesday after protesters set fire to it. British protesters also toppled a statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-century slave trader, in Bristol on Sunday before throwing it in the water.
Virginia lawmakers had planned to pull down a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee last week, but a judge temporarily blocked the move in court on Tuesday.
Advocates for the statues have argued that preserving them is important for history. Several statues have been removed in recent years.
Atlanta responded to the problem last year by moving to label its Confederate-era monuments with context about their past.
One label added to the city’s Peace Monument declares that it “should no longer stand as a memorial to white brotherhood; rather, it should be seen as an artifact representing a shared history in which millions of Americans were denied civil and human rights.”
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