What’s left of Baltimore’s Christopher Columbus was lifted out of the Inner Harbor Monday morning as officials continued to debate the monument’s merits days after protesters pulled it over, dragged pieces of it to the water and tossed them in with no immediate response from police.
Private crews with Specialty Underwater Services and Iacoboni Site Specialists lifted the pieces of the statue out of the water around 8:30 a.m.
John Pica, a former state senator and an Italian-American from Baltimore, helped organize the effort to recover the marble statue, which stood at the border of Baltimore’s Little Italy and Harbor East neighborhoods for 36 years until a group heaved it into the Inner Harbor on the Fourth of July.
Pica said Columbus’ importance is still evident in our society, with many municipalities and cities named after him, and that his significance shouldn’t be lost despite the explorer’s racist and violent treatment of nonwhites.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said in a statement released Monday that officers did not attempt to stop the protesters from toppling the statue because “it was tactically unsafe.”
The city’s lack of a response has drawn the ire of some officials, including Gov. Larry Hogan, who told city leaders Sunday they “need to regain control of their streets.”
“As the Baltimore Police Department was responding to several life and death incidents across the city, a small number of officers were assigned to assist with peaceful protests taking place in the downtown area,” Harrison said. “As the number of protesters grew, it was tactically unsafe for those few officers to position themselves between the protestors and the Christopher Columbus Statue in attempt to prevent vandalism and destruction.”
Harrison said police continue to investigate the incident.
“We intend to hold those violators accountable,” he said.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, the union representing Baltimore’s police officers, said in a tweet Monday that officers were ordered to stand down.
“Our members were ready to act to stop this criminal activity happening before them but were ordered to do nothing,” the union wrote on Twitter.
Del. Nino Mangione, a Baltimore County Republican and ardent supporter of the Columbus statue, said he plans to propose legislation during the next General Assembly session that would set minimum sentences for people who destroy monuments with historical value.
”I regret having to file this legislation, but the Antifa-like mobs and this thug-like behavior has to end,” Mangione said.
City Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, an East Baltimore Democrat, said a conversation is well overdue in the city about the future of the monuments and statues on display in parks and on street corners.
”We have people on all sides of this,” Sneed said. “We need to bring them to City Hall where we can have an honest debate about what should happen once you remove them [statues] and if anything goes in its place.”
The conversation should address, she said, whether the city has a responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of any statues after they have been removed.
A spokesman for Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young did not return calls Monday for comment as to whether the mayor will move to do anything with the now statue-less Columbus Piazza before leaving office next year.
Carved in Italian Carrara marble, the toppled statue was owned by the city and dedicated on Oct. 8, 1984 by former Mayor William Donald Schaefer and President Ronald Reagan.
While Columbus has been depicted in textbooks as having discovered America in 1492, calls have grown for his likeness to be removed from public squares and his legacy to be better contextualized with his violent treatment of the native people of what is now the Caribbean country of the Dominican Republic.
Groups also have called for the city to stop celebrating Christopher Columbus Day in October, asking that it be changed to an Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a holiday honoring native communities that were displaced and decimated by European voyagers and the settlers who followed. A number of municipalities and cities throughout the country have adopted the change, but Baltimore had not as of last year.
The Promotion Center for Little Italy, Baltimore — a nonprofit that promotes the Little Italy neighborhood and its history — wrote on Facebook Monday that the organization is saddened by the removal of the statue.
“A piece of Little Italy’s heart was destroyed along with this statue,” the organization wrote. “The ‘protesters’ gave no thought to the Italian immigrant experience in the United States which included ample discrimination, abuse, starvation, and yes — lynchings!”
Anti-Italian American sentiment has been widely documented in American history, particularly during mass immigration in the 19th century, culminating in a mob of people lynching 11 Italian Americans in New Orleans in 1891 because they were alleged to be involved in the murder of the New Orleans police chief.
However, lynching in America has long been associated with the Black experience in America, particularly after the Civil War. A 2015 Equal Justice Initiative study found that more than 4,000 Blacks were lynched between 1877 and 1950, far and away the group that suffered the most lynchings during that time period.
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As crews loaded pieces of the recovered statue onto a flatbed truck Monday, Pica said a broad coalition of Italian-Americans in the area teamed up to bring the statue out of the water.
Employees who answered the phone for the two companies involved declined to comment.
Pica said if he could speak with the protesters, he’d ask them what they were pursuing in toppling the statue.
“There’s no end goal here. Nobody knows what they want,” Pica said.
The grassroots activist group Baltimore BLOC issued a list of 10 demands Sunday, including the removal of all statues that honor “white supremacists, owners of enslaved people, perpetrators of genocide and colonizers.” The group also seeks a redesign of the state flag, which uses a symbol that had been adopted by Confederate sympathizers during the Civil War.
“We salute our kinfolk who toppled and deported the Columbus monument, and we reaffirm the demands that the organizers are calling for moving forward. Symbols and systems of white supremacy have no place in Baltimore City and must be collectively dismantled,” the group said in a statement.
Baltimore Sun reporters Pamela Wood and Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.