Leaders to Fight Attack on ‘Western Culture’ Amid New Calls for Removal
WINDSOR TERRACE — The nationwide movement by protesters to tear down statues of Christopher Columbus is misguided and flat-out wrong, according to Italian-American leaders, who said demonstrators should not lump in the explorer with other targets of their wrath in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
“We will fight this tooth and nail,” said Carlo Scissura, chairman of the Federation of Italian-American Organizations of Brooklyn. “Christopher Columbus represents part of Italian-Americans’ national pride. He is part of the success story of Italian-Americans.”
Members of the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic service organization named in honor of Christopher Columbus, are puzzled and angry over the controversy.
“I stand by Columbus,” said Lou Marra, a knight at the Samuel Cardinal Stritch Council of the Knights of Columbus in Gravesend.
Protesters are ignoring the contributions the explorer made, Marra said.
“He created the world we know now,” he told The Tablet.
In the wake of the death of George Floyd, an African-American man killed in police custody in Minneapolis last month, hundreds of protests erupted in cities across the nation, spawning a movement to topple Confederate statues and other symbols associated with slavery.
The movement has now expanded to include Christopher Columbus. Proponents of tearing down statues of Columbus claim that he tormented and enslaved indigenous people while colonizing the New World and should not be celebrated by history.
Earlier this month, the Columbus statue-dumping effort appeared to be gaining some momentum. There were three recent incidents across the country in which Columbus statues were targeted — one was pulled to the ground, one was beheaded, and another thrown into a lake.
The Richmond Indigenous Society of Richmond, Virginia, sent out a tweet prior to a protest demonstration in that city earlier this month calling Columbus “a murderer of Indigenous people.”
Any effort to topple Columbus statues here in New York will be met with fierce opposition, Scissura told The Tablet.
“We are still the largest ethnic group in the state, and we will make our voices heard,” he said.
Andre DiMino, leader of the Italian-American One Voice Coalition, says that the protesters are operating on misinformation.
“They have twisted the facts to attack Columbus and western culture,” he told Currents News.
Seeing video footage of statues being torn down by protesters is “just horrible and heart-wrenching,” DiMino added.
Perhaps the most famous Columbus statue in New York City is the one that towers over Columbus Circle in Manhattan. Scissura isn’t worried about that statue, which he believes is likely under the protected radar of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The Columbus Circle statue came under scrutiny in 2017, when Mayor Bill de Blasio created the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers to look at whether controversial monuments should be kept or demolished.
The panel, which included architects, educators, and historians among its members, recommended in its January 2018 report to the mayor that the Columbus Circle statue remain intact.
But Scissura expressed concern over another Columbus statue — the one standing outside the New York State Supreme Court in downtown Brooklyn.
“We have to be vigilant,” he said.
Members of the Knights of Columbus are growing increasingly outraged by ongoing efforts to slam the explorer.
“We view this as a Catholic issue as much as an Italian-American issue,” said Carmine Musumeci, a member of the National Board of Directors of the Knights of Columbus. “He was not a conqueror. He was an explorer.”
The Knights are willing, however, “to have a discourse about this,” according to Musumeci, and the organization is also willing to testify at public hearings.
“There are a lot of lies and stories about Columbus, all of which are unfounded by history,” he told The Tablet. “We need to re-educate the public.”
Marra said people should not erase history, but learn from it.
“It’s not fair to judge somebody 500 years ago by the standards of today,” he said. “History has provided us with the time to evolve.”