The city of New Haven took down the Christopher Columbus statue in Wooster Square Park in New Haven on Wednesday and crowds gathered to watch as it happened.
“It’s a relic of New Haven and this is actually an outrage,” said Anthony Lanzetti of New Haven, as he watched the statue of Christopher Columbus come down in Wooster Square Park Wednesday afternoon.
Several people, some in favor of taking down the statue and other who oppose it, were at Wooster Square Park, where the statue stood for more than 125 years.
A crowd of people who opposed the removal of the statue gathered early on Wednesday morning to guard it.
New Haven police said 40 to 50 people had gathered in Wooster Square Park as of 6 a.m. and they were monitoring the situation.
Later in the morning, people in favor of taking down the statue gathered in the park.
Some heated moments took place between the protesters and counter protesters.
The statue has been removed amid protests nationwide for racial justice and the city parks commission will later decide what to do with it.
The statue will remain in the city's custody and will be move to the Knights of Columbus Museum. The city said the statue holds deep ties to the Italian-American community, as it was first erected in 1892, and later recast in bronze in 1955.
For many Italian Americans, the statue is a symbol of success and achievement.
An organizer of the protest opposing the removal of the statue said he filed an injunction and the city does not have the right to remove the statue down.
"Growing up in New Haven, we grew up with all ethnic groups and we all had harmony because we all respected each other and every ethnic group today is struggling here in the United States as we all know. But it’s not about erasing history, but it’s about coming together as one in the future to all live in harmony and all have equality. We just want everybody else to respect our ethnic group as well," Louis Pane said.
Peter Criscuolo grew up in Wooster Square and looked up to Columbus for 70 years. He said the statue should have stayed, and a plaque could have been placed there detailing more of Columbus’ troubling impact on the world.
“If we’re looking for a hero that did everything right and did nothing wrong at all, we’ll have no heroes,” said Criscuolo. “Do we get emotionally upset when someone gives us money with pictures of dead presidents on it with pictures of slave owners?”
For others, the statue is a symbol of bigotry and colonialism and they feel should be removed.
“I was taught that he was a good man, that he discovered America. We know that’s not true,” said Garrett Griffin, a teacher at East Rock School. “I think that this establishes the fact that we need to teach our history as it is and not romanticize it.”
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said he was disappointed at some words and language that were used at the protests on Wednesday before the statue's removal and several skirmishes that broke out around the statue.
"There were some fights, it was intense," Elicker said. He emphasized that no arrests were made.
Elicker said there was also a delay in the crane's arrival Wednesday to Wooster Square that did not support the city's plans.
The mayor said he would have preferred to remove the statue sooner but there are a lot of logistical challenges involved, including scheduling a crane.
Over the weekend, someone tossed red paint onto it during a protest, according to police.
Mayor Elicker released a statement, saying:
"The decision to remove the statue of Columbus today was one that was spearheaded by a group of leaders in the Italian community. While this decision for those leaders was not easy, they courageously did the right thing. I support this decision. I want to take a moment to thank those leaders for their support in recognizing the history of colonialism and its negative effects on many cultures, and their help to identify a place where the statue can reside. I know that there are some people who strongly disagree with the decision to remove the statute. People have the right to protest and express their opinions peacefully. We will work collaboratively to ensure we honor New Haven’s Italian Heritage and immigrant history. I look forward to the many community conversations surrounding what we would like to see replace the statue of Christopher Columbus, and how we can highlight other cultural icons for the many Italian-Americans that have made New Haven their home. It is disappointing that some at the protest incited fighting. New Haven has a long history of lively dialogue, but violence has no place in our city. We face a very challenging moment in history. We must work as a community to listen, understand, and have respectful dialogue with each other. This moment, while challenging, is also an opportunity to bring people together.," Elicker said in a statement.
The New Haven School Board has also voted to take major steps when it comes to Christopher Columbus.
It decided to rename the Christopher Columbus Family Academy in the Fair Haven neighborhood and replace Columbus Day on the school calendar with Indigenous Peoples Day.