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Amid protests, Christopher Columbus statues take flak in Minn., other states

A statue of Christopher Columbus sits in the water after people pulled the memorial down Tuesday night in Richmond, Va.
A statue of Christopher Columbus sits in the water after people pulled the memorial down Tuesday night in Richmond, Va.
@marleynichelle via AP

Updated: 5:29 p.m.

It is not just the Confederacy that has attracted the wrath of protesters. Even as statues of Confederate soldiers fall across the country, either by official decree or under less formal circumstances, another key figure from American history is being quite literally knocked from his pedestal: Christopher Columbus.

In St. Paul, a group of protesters, led by Mike Forcia of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, took down the statue of the Italian explorer at the Minnesota State Capitol Wednesday evening.

The group was told by a member of the Minnesota State Patrol that they could fill out paperwork to have the statue removed. Forcia, however, said it was time to act in the moment since others were taking similar action across the country.

"We don't have to wait for the state, we don't have to wait for the process because we've already waited far too long,” he said.

At a park in Richmond, Va., protesters toppled a Columbus statue Tuesday night, vandalized it with spray paint and dropped it in a lake.

More than 500 miles north, in Boston, police reported a beheaded Columbus statue overnight.

It is far from the first time a statue in the Virginia capital — and capital of the former Confederacy — has inspired outrage and attempts at removal.

Less than a half-hour's walk from Byrd Park, where the Columbus statue was torn down, controversy has risen around a massive memorial to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Earlier this week, a court blocked a plan to remove it.

Still, Columbus represents a distinct case from the broader conversation around Confederate statues. Some 370 years before the establishment of the Confederacy, the captain and his crew sighted land in the Caribbean — and set off a violent chain of events that included pillaging, rape and centuries of oppression targeting natives.

The navigator has been venerated in the U.S., not only with statues but also city names and a federal holiday. But critics have long pushed to reevaluate how he is remembered, and a number of states and cities — including Minneapolis and Seattle -- have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.

In Richmond, the Columbus statue stood at the focal point of a protest Tuesday night, which began with a peaceful march and ended a couple of hours later with its toppling. The people who gathered in Byrd Park felled the 8-foot statue using ropes and dragged it about 200 yards to submerge it in nearby Fountain Lake, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

City workers removed the statue from the water Wednesday.

Boston protesters, perhaps, managed to produce the more shocking visual, lopping off the head of a Columbus statue in a park named in his honor. Boston police said they found the head nearby early Wednesday.

NPR member station WBUR in Boston noted that it is not the first time this particular statue has been targeted with vandalism. Five years ago, the statue was dashed with red paint and the words "Black Lives Matter!"

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