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A statue of Christopher Columbus, which City Council is considering for removal from a public park downtown, was discovered Thursday splattered with red paint.
It’s unclear when the vandalism took place, but residents noticed the damage early Thursday morning.
The bronze statue is the centerpiece of the 2-acre Columbus Park at 500 Columbus St. and was donated to the City of San Antonio in 1957 by the local Christopher Columbus Italian Society, which recently requested that the statue be relocated.
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) filed a request last week for City Council to consider renaming Columbus Park to Piazza Italia (“Italy Square”) and relocating the statue of the park’s namesake. The Council’s Governance Committee was scheduled to consider on Tuesday renaming and removing the statue.
“It is unfortunate to wake up to hear that the Christopher Columbus statue was vandalized last night,” Treviño said via text, adding that one of the reasons he wants the statue moved was because of potential vandalism.
“I stressed the urgency of us taking action as soon as possible; however, it has been delayed for consideration until next week,” he said. “The action was an opportunity for healing and acknowledging those who have asked to be heard.”
The statue removal must go through Governance Committee first, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said later Thursday, “unless there is a significant present danger.”
In City Council chambers Thursday morning, Black Lives Matter activists and Indigenous rights leaders called for quicker action in removing the statue.
“It should have been down as soon as the Society agreed to take it down,” Antonio Diaz told City Council members. “We want that removed. We want that expedited. … We’re asking for all symbols of colonialism and hatred and racism … to be removed.”
Diaz is an outspoken critic of Columbus Day celebrations. He successfully lobbied Bexar County officials to establish an Indigenous Peoples Day (Oct. 12) in 2015.
As he spoke Thursday, dozens of Black, Latino, and white protesters stood up in support. During the Pledge of Allegiance, which Council members recite before each Thursday meeting starts, they knelt in a tribute to George Floyd, whose killing while in police custody in Minneapolis has sparked national and international protests. In many cities nationwide, the outcry over racism and police brutality has renewed the push to remove Confederate and some colonial memorials.
Diaz said he understands that there is a public process that must be followed, but that should be set aside in emergencies.
“We’ve also seen that when the people demand action, our government has been wiling to provide that action, especially when all entities are in agreement … There is not disagreement right now as to the removal of that statue”
When a Confederate monument in downtown San Antonio’s Travis Park was removed in 2017, some groups protested the “removal of history” from public view. Council voted 10-1 to remove the statue after bypassing discussion of the matter at the committee level. In that case, there was a considerable threat of danger and the Council had already discussed the statue’s removal.
Last month, the Alamo Cenotaph, a memorial to the defenders of the Alamo, was defaced with red spray paint. The monument’s white marble base was scrawled with messages condemning “white supremacy,” “profit over people,” and “the Alamo.”
Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) said she would support the removal of the Columbus statue as it represents the “assault and exploitation of indigenous peoples.”
“It’s well documented that he is inaccurately credited as first to ‘discover’ the new world which indigenous [people] had already been living in,” Viagran said.
Columbus should remain in history books “and not immortalized in our public gathering spaces.”
The future of the statue will be discussed by the Governance Committee on Tuesday, Nirenberg said.
“This is a really peculiar situation because this is a donation from a group that has now requested that property back,” Nirenberg said. “City Council will eventually have to vote together as a body because it’s inclusive of a name change.”