State in middle of fight over Columbus
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.”
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.