New York mayor joins governor in defending Columbus statue

NEW YORK, United States (AFP) — New York Mayor Bill de Blasio yesterday ruled out removing a statue of explorer Christopher Columbus from the circle bearing his name near Central Park, entering the fraught US debate over the fate of monuments linked to the country’s colonisers and pro-slavery past.

In the wake of anti-racism protests across the United States sparked by the death in police custody of handcuffed African American George Floyd, controversial statues glorifying colonisers and Confederate leaders are in the line of fire.

Protesters have torn down or defaced several statues or monuments in recent days, in Boston, Richmond and elsewhere.

Despite renewed calls for the statue of Columbus to be removed from Columbus Circle, including a petition with thousands of signatures, De Blasio is not budging from a decision made in 2018 by a special commission to keep it.

“The commission did really careful, extensive work…and they came up with a vision for how to address this and we should, I think, stick to what was achieved by that commission,” he said.

At the time, the commission decided after several months of study to maintain the statue erected in 1892 to mark the 400th anniversary of the Italian explorer’s arrival in the New World.

Columbus’s legacy has since been revisited with the benefit of hindsight over the brutal treatment of Native Americans by European colonisers.

The statue sits atop a column in Columbus Circle. The commission did move to add explanatory plaques to the site, explaining the history of Columbus in more detail.

On Thursday, New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo had voiced his support for keeping the statue as a way to honour the “Italian-American contribution to New York”.

Cuomo, whose family has Italian roots, did however say he understood “the feelings about Christopher Columbus and some of his acts, which nobody would support”.

In recent years, some US cities have replaced celebrations of Columbus Day, a federal holiday in October since 1937, with a day of events honouring indigenous peoples.

New York and Boston, which have significant Italian-American communities, have maintained Columbus Day festivities.

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