Christopher Columbus monument vandalized in Baltimore

A monument in Baltimore to Christopher Columbus — believed to be the first one erected to the Italian explorer in America — was vandalized.

Baltimore Police said they were looking into the incident, but couldn’t say when the damage took place.

A video posted to YouTube on Monday by a user named “Popular Resistance” shows a man striking the base of the monument near Herring Run Park repeatedly with a sledgehammer. Another person holds a sign that reads: “Racism, tear it down.” Another sign is taped to the monument reading: “The future is racial and economic justice.”

Police are searching for information about the men in the video, as well as whoever filmed it.

“We want to inform people it is a crime to destroy property. And if the person is identified who is responsible for this, they will be prosecuted,” said police spokesman T.J. Smith.

The narrator of the video, who says his name is Ty, calls Christopher Columbus a “genocidal terrorist.”

The monument, which features a two-story-tall obelisk atop a base, was still standing on Monday morning, but there was a gaping hole in the front and chunks of stone were scattered in the grass. The signs seen in the video were lying on the ground.

The lettering on the front of the monument — “Sacred to the memory of Chris. Columbus, Octob. XII, MDCCVIIIC” — was rendered unreadable.

The vandalism comes nearly one week after city officials swiftly removed four controversial monuments: a statue of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate Women’s monument, the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument and a statue of Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, who authored the 1857 Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery.

In Annapolis, state officials followed suit and removed a Taney statue there early Friday morning.

Ever since white supremacists protested the removal of a Lee statue in Charlottesville, Va. last month, government officials across the country have begun to re-examine their monuments and statues.

The rally in Virginia turned deadly: A counter-protester was killed when a Neo-Nazi sympathizer allegedly drove his car into a crowd, and two police officers monitoring the scene died when their helicopter crashed.

The celebration of Columbus’ exploits in the Americas has long been criticized by those who feel the Italian explorer’s misdeeds are too often glossed over. Many associate Columbus, who is often falsely credited with “discovering” what is now the United States, with enslaving, brutalizing and killing the native people he encountered in his travels.

Columbus statues and monuments have been defaced and damaged over the years, as more people learn about Columbus’ deadly legacy.

“This is happening everywhere,” said Kevin Caira, president of the Sons of Italy’s Commission for Social Justice. Over the weekend, a Columbus statue in Boston was painted red and a protest was held at a statue in Detroit, he said.

In 2015, someone splashed red paint and planted a hatchet on the head of a bronze statue of Columbus in Detroit, according to the Detroit News.

Caira said there’s been an uptick in attention to Columbus monuments since the events in Charlottesville, as people rethink the value of statues in public places.

Caira defended Columbus as a great explorer who may not be guilty of all of the sins ascribed to him. He also suggested it’s unfair to measure a 15th-century figure by 21st-century morals and standards.

“He’s been the target of people claiming he caused all of the ills of the world, that he caused genocide and slavery,” Caira said. “It’s just not true.”

The Columbus Day holiday also has been a casualty of increased knowledge about the Italian explorer. The Baltimore City Council last year considered renaming Columbus Day, celebrated in October, as “Indigenous Peoples’ and Italian-Americans’ Day.” The bill, which was introduced at the behest of students, failed.

In recent decades, a number of American cities have moved to change the Columbus Day holiday. Albuquerque, N.M., Portland, Ore., and St. Paul, Minn. are among those who dropped Columbus in favor of an Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The state of Vermont added an Indigenous Peoples’ day last fall.

The obelisk at Herring Run is believed to be the first monument in the country to honor Columbus, erected in 1792 by Frenchman Chevalier d’Anemours. The obelisk was on his estate at what is now the intersection of Harford Road and North Avenue, currently the site of the Eastside District Court building.

The Columbus obelisk was moved to its current location on Harford Road near Parkside Drive in 1963, according to newspaper accounts. A plaque indicates it was re-dedicated by then Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin in 1964.

For a time, some believed that the obelisk honored not the Italian explorer, but rather a horse of the same name, according to historical newspaper accounts.

It’s not the only monument to Columbus in Baltimore. There’s a statue of Columbus installed in 1892 in Druid Hill Park, where wasps built a large hive between his legs in 2015. There also is a Columbus statue in Harbor East, dedicated by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. Before that statue was built, Little Italy activists had failed in an attempt to get the city to move the Druid Hill statue to their neighborhood.

Police said Monday afternoon that damage has not been discovered at any other monuments in the city. Anyone with information about the damage to the Columbus obelisk is asked to call detectives at 410-396-2444.

Police are continuing to investigate damage that was done last week to an anti-hate statue known as the “Madre Luz” that was erected on the site of the Lee-Jackson memorial at the Wyman Park Dell.

Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson and research librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this report.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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