Baltimore mayor says protesters who threw Columbus statue in the Inner Harbor ‘will be brought to justice'

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Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said Thursday he was not going to tolerate the destruction of the Christopher Columbus statue, warning those who toppled the monument near Little Italy that “if we identify them, they will be brought to justice.”

Young’s comments are the strongest reaction from the administration since the Fourth of July incident.


“We support peaceful protest. This is not a peaceful protest,” Young said. “It is unacceptable.”

The mayor — who lost last month’s Democratic primary and will leave office in December — said the protesters cannot “erase history. You learn from it.” Monuments, such as ones to the 15th-century Italian explorer, “should have something there to talk about what happened in the dark past.”


Last week, on Independence Day, a crowd pulled down the Columbus statue, dragged it to the edge of the Inner Harbor and rolled it into the water.

Dedicated in 1984, the statue has become a recent issue for many in the city as the legacy of Columbus has become increasingly focused on his violent enslavement of native people. Throughout much of history, however, he was characterized as a hero who discovered America.

A spokesman for Young said July 4 that the destruction of the statue was part of a “re-examination taking place nationally and globally around some of these monuments and statues that may represent different things to different people.”

Lester Davis, a longtime Young aide, also said, “We understand the dynamics that are playing out in Baltimore are part of a national narrative. We understand the frustrations.

“What the city wants to do is serve as a national model, particularly with how we’ve done with protesting. We’ve seen people who have taken to the streets, we have supported them. We are going to continue to support it. That’s a full stop.”

The statue’s fall divided many as to how the city should handle the legacy of Columbus, a famous explorer for Europe who brutalized and enslaved nonwhites during his colonization of what is now the Dominican Republic.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday “people will do what they do” when asked about the statue, before adding that “from a safety standpoint,” she’d rather see statues taken down through a public process.

Pelosi is a Baltimore native who grew up in Little Italy as part of the D’Alesandro family, a Democratic political dynasty with two former mayors to its name.


“So, let’s just think about what are the values, the vision, the perspective that we enshrine and how that benefits our children rather than having a big fight about, ‘Was somebody worth it?‘” she said.

“We know they’re not worth it if they committed treason against the United States,” she added, an apparent reference Confederate war memorials and statues.

Gov. Larry Hogan called Pelosi’s comments “disappointing” and said that she may have lost touch of her Baltimore roots where her family served.

“While efforts towards peaceful change are welcome, there is no place in Maryland for lawlessness, vandalism and destruction of public property,” Hogan said in a tweet Thursday night.

Others have echoed Young’s call for police to arrest those responsible.

Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said the department continues to investigate and will “hold those violators accountable.”


Some officials voiced their displeasure with the department and city leaders for the lack of response. Harrison said “it was tactically unsafe” to position officers in front of the statue.

Hogan, a Republican, decried the statue’s toppling, calling on Baltimore’s leaders to “regain control of their streets” on Sunday. He was joined by fellow Republicans Del. Kathy Szeliga and Del. Nino Mangione, who both said that the protesters should not escape prosecution.

A group aided by John Pica, a former state senator and an Italian-American from Baltimore, retrieved the statue Monday from the water. Pica said that Columbus’ violent and racist behavior toward nonwhites should not completely take away from his accomplishments as an explorer.

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The day after the statue fell, Baltimore BLOC, a grassroots activist group, issued a list of 10 demands, including the removal of 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 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.

Democratic City Councilman Ryan Dorsey, meanwhile, tweeted the same night the statue was removed about a Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Memorial a few blocks away. He asked, “as consistently awful as the FOP is, how is the FOP memorial not on the list of monuments to remove?”


Mike Mancuso, president of FOP Lodge 3, which represents city officers, said in a statement Wednesday that Dorsey’s comments are “an insult to our fallen and to their families left behind.” Hogan jumped into the issue Thursday, issuing a statement calling Dorsey’s suggestion to remove the memorial “vile” and “shameful.” Hogan said Dorsey should apologize to the families of dead officers.

Dorsey did not respond Thursday to a request for comment, but tweeted a statement saying he asked “a question inviting debate and nothing more.” He said he has never called for removing the city’s memorials to officers and that the governor and the FOP have misconstrued his comments as a “call to action.”

Dorsey has introduced legislation to rededicate another monument to Columbus in Herring Run Park to instead honor victims of police violence.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.