New Haven

Disputes Over Christopher Columbus Statues Play Out in Court

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Disputes over what to do with statues of Christopher Columbus in Connecticut have resulted in both civil and criminal complaints.

Sculptures of the explorer were erected in the 19th and 20th centuries across the state, which has a large Italian-American population, but many were taken down this summer following widespread racial injustice protests that began following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Demonstrators have targeted the statues because they say the Italian explorer was responsible for the genocide and exploitation of native peoples in the Americas.

Over the past two months, Columbus statues have been removed throughout the country and in Connecticut cities including Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, New London, Norwalk and Middletown.

Some, including the statue in Bridgeport, were removed by officials who said they want to protect them from potential vandalism.

On July 4, a man broke the head off the Columbus statue in front of Waterbury’s city hall.

Police released footage Tuesday of that incident to the Waterbury Republican-American newspaper. Authorities say the video shows 22-year-old Brandon Ambrose, of Port Chester, New York, using a hammer or other object to knock the head off the statue.

Police have a warrant to charge Ambrose with desecration of property, first-degree criminal trespassing and sixth-degree larceny, but said he has not yet been taken into custody.

They said their investigation showed he later tried to sell the nose from the statue.

Ambrose does not have a listed phone number and could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The Columbus statue in New Haven was removed on June 24 by city officials after petitions were circulated calling for it to come down. But a group claiming to represent close to 200 ancestors of those who gifted the statue in 1892 have filed a state lawsuit against its removal.

The Italian-American Heritage Group of New Haven also wants to excavate the base of the statue for a box with documents they say may include conditions imposed on the city at the time it was erected.

City officials, who are seeking to dismiss that lawsuit, have said they are considering options, including the possibility of moving the monument to the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven.

But Joseph Cullen, a spokesperson for the Roman Catholic fraternal organization founded in New Haven in 1882, said they plan to turn their museum into a pilgrimage center and would have no room for a statue. He said many incorrectly believe they own the statue and are responsible for erecting it and the others in the state.

Although they did not put up the statues, the Knights of Columbus believe that society needs to have a “civil debate on these issues and not settle differences with mob violence and destruction," he said.

He also said his organization has no intention of changing its name.

“No, our name was inspired by Columbus as a great Catholic explorer and as a symbol of triumph over the oppression of Catholics and immigrants," he said. "Our name stands for helping those in need, combating racism and defending people of faith from discrimination.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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