State in mid­dle of fight over Colum­bus

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Neil Vig­dor, Cedar At­tana­sio and Este­ban L. Her­nan­dez

Con­necti­cut is clean­ing up from a Colum­bus Day van­dal­ism spree in which sev­eral mon­u­ments were de­faced, but the residue from a deepseated con­flict over the ex­plorer’s legacy lingers in this state —home to the sec­ond-high­est per­cent­age of Ital­ian-Amer­i­cans in the na­tion.

From Bridge­port to New Haven and from Nor­walk to Mid­dle­town, po­lice are con­tin­u­ing to in­ves­ti­gate the spray­paint­ing of Colum­bus stat­ues, which law en­force­ment of­fi­cials say was part of a co­or­di­nated scheme by an an­ar­chist group.

In all but one case, the stat­ues were doused with red paint lead­ing up to the hol­i­day, which had be­come a flash­point for those seek­ing to pre­serve his­tory and those want­ing to scrub what they say is the dark past of the Ge­noese ex­plorer.

At Sea­side Park in Bridge­port, the words “Kill The Col­o­nizer” were scrawled at the bot­tom of the city’s Colum­bus statue, while “Fake News” was spray-painted in block let­ters us­ing a sten­cil at the base of a sim­i­lar mon­u­ment in Thomas C. O'Con­nor Park in Nor­walk.

“They’re cer­tainly not go­ing to re­write his­tory that way,” said Mark Lau­retti, a Repub­li­can gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date and Shel­ton mayor who served as Bridge­port’s Colum­bus Day pa­rade grand mar­shal. “It’s dis­re­spect­ful. It’s un­war­ranted. I’m not un­der­stand­ing their logic.”

An an­ar­chist group iden­ti­fy­ing it­self as the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Abo­li­tion­ist Move­ment is be­lieved to be be­hind the wave of van­dal­ism, ac­cord­ing to law en­force­ment. It’s af­fil­i­ated with the broader, far-left lean­ing “an­tifa,” net­work, which char­ac­ter­izes it­self as anti-racist; anti-cor­po­rate and anti-elec­toral pol­i­tics. On so­cial me­dia, the group urged its mem­bers to de­face stat­ues of Colum­bus and used the hashtag #de­stroy­colo­nial­ism.

“You think these are be­nign stat­ues?” said Scott Crow, a former An­tifa or­ga­nizer and au­thor from Texas. “You fig­ure that Colum­bus has a legacy of slav­ery and a legacy of dom­i­na­tion. Do we want peo­ple to go into parks and re­vere stat­ues of mass mur­der­ers or do we want to put up stat­ues of peo­ple who ac­tu­ally did good things?”

FBI spokesman Char­lie Grady told Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia Tues­day that he had no in­for­ma­tion that the agency was con­duct­ing its own in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the wave of van­dal­ism, but said it would not be un­usual for it to lend aid to lo­cal po­lice.

“We’re there to help,” Grady said.

Com­mu­ni­ties across the na­tion are grap­pling with what Colum­bus rep­re­sents — bold ex­plo­ration ver­sus im­pe­ri­al­ism. But the ar­gu­ments for and against Colum­bus are es­pe­cially salient in Con­necti­cut, which has the high­est per­cent­age of res­i­dents iden­ti­fy­ing as Ital­ian Amer­i­can in the na­tion (18.6 per­cent) after Rhode Is­land (19 per­cent).

State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wil­ton, who was born in Italy and be­came a U.S. ci­ti­zen when she was 10, com­pared the van­dal­ism to the na­tional an­them protests in the Na­tional Foot­ball League.

“It’s an act­ing out of deep anger, much like we see with those that are protest­ing in to­day’s mod­ern sports,” said Boucher, who is ex­plor­ing a run for gover­nor. “When we try to im­pose our stan­dards of to­day on the times that were pre­vi­ous, that’s very dif­fi­cult to do”

New Haven, where a Colum­bus statue was van­dal­ized in Wooster Square, is home to more na­tives of Amalfi, Italy, than Amalfi it­self. It’s the home city of U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

“I am proud of my Ital­ian her­itage. Christo­pher Colum­bus is part of the his­tory of Amer­ica,” DeLauro told Hearst Tues­day. “Hon­or­ing him is some­thing I am proud to be a part of. Van­dal­ism is un­ac­cept­able.”

New Haven po­lice spokesman Of­fi­cer David Hart­man said the van­dal­ism case re­mains open, with lo­cal law en­force­ment work­ing with its coun­ter­parts in other com­mu­ni­ties to try to track down the cul­prits.

Added pa­trols were added to the site fol­low­ing the in­ci­dent po­lice be­lieved hap­pened overnight Satur­day. Hart­man de­clined to com­ment on whether po­lice will con­tinue con­duct­ing ex­tra pa­trols around the statue.

The cleanup at New Haven’s statue re­quired two em­ploy­ees and cost $320 in over­time, said New Haven Parks, Recre­ation and Trees Depart­ment Di­rec­tor Re­becca Bombero. She said the over­time costs were due to the cleanup hap­pen­ing on a hol­i­day week­end.

The parks depart­ment wanted the statue cleaned, “to be re­spect­ful of the ob­ser­vance on Monday,” Bombero said.

In Bridge­port, where the city’s pub­lic schools changed its Colum­bus Day ob­ser­vance to Ital­ianAmer­i­can Her­itage Day in 2015, may­oral spokesman Av Har­ris said po­lice pa­trol Sea­side Park mul­ti­ple times a day.

“The in­ves­ti­ga­tion is on­go­ing and we are seek­ing to speak with eye­wit­nesses or any­one who hap­pened to be in or near the park early (Monday) morn­ing and may have seen some­thing,” Har­ris said.

Po­lice in Mid­dle­town, where a Colum­bus statue in Har­bor Park was van­dal­ized for the sec­ond time in as many years, could not con­firm the case was con­nected to other in­ci­dents across the state.

“I don’t know who thinks they have the right to de­face a mon­u­ment that com­mem­o­rates some­thing that means a whole lot of dif­fer­ent things to a whole lot of dif­fer­ent peo­ple,” said Mid­dle­town Com­mon Coun­cil­man Se­bas­tian N. Gi­u­liano, whose fa­ther and grand­par­ents came from Melilli, Si­cily.

“I don’t care what your view of Christo­pher Colum­bus is,” he said. “There were a whole lot of peo­ple from Mid­dle­town who do­nated money back in 1991 or 1992 to erect that mon­u­ment. There are other ways to ex­press your dis­agree­ment with the whole idea than to show such a lack of re­spect for the ef­forts and sen­si­bil­i­ties of your fel­low cit­i­zens.”

Bill Corvo /

The Colum­bus statue van­dal­ism dam­age that oc­curred over the week­end in Mid­dle­town in­cluded the face of the statue be­ing smashed, a lo­cal res­i­dent says. On the right is the orig­i­nal vis­age, and left is the smashed nose.

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