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By allowing tearing down of Baltimore Columbus statue, city leaders condoned lawlessness | COMMENTARY

The headless torso of the Christopher Columbus statue is taken to a waiting flatbed truck after being recovered from Baltimore's harbor.
The headless torso of the Christopher Columbus statue is taken to a waiting flatbed truck after being recovered from Baltimore's harbor. (Jerry Jackson)

On Independence Day, patriotic Americans were forgoing parades, picnics, fireworks and the celebration of the birth of our great nation out of respect for the health and well-being of our fellow citizens. Yet, a group took to the streets of Baltimore with their sights set upon the Christopher Columbus statue in Little Italy.

After the marble statue was dangerously toppled, it was rolled into the Inner Harbor to the cheers and glee of the group. City leaders ignored the pleas of the Italian American community, and Del. Nino Mangione, and myself worked to protect this statue when it was publicly targeted for destruction.

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The destruction and defacing of publicly owned statues, memorials and artwork is not just plaguing Baltimore City, but something we are seeing across our nation. Angry groups have taken it upon themselves to decide what is and is not acceptable. Their targets of destruction have not only included Confederate symbols, but also Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and even the World War II monument in Washington, D.C. The ignorance of history along with the sheer audacity of approving this lawlessness is shocking. Silence is approval. Some leaders are even vocally approving.

When asked about the destruction of the Christopher Columbus statue, Baltimore’s Little Italy native Nancy Pelosi said, “People will do what they do.” City Councilman Ryan Dorsey tweeted that night, “bye.” The city police were either completely unprepared for this known threat that had gathered hours earlier, or they were told to stand down. The City Council president and presumptive incoming mayor refused to condemn the act of violence and said he previously asked to have the Columbus statue removed. He apparently approved of the group of protesters doing his dirty work for him.

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One council member has even called for the removal of other statues, including the monument to fallen police officers. As we watch the exodus of residents from the city, the murder rate is again on track to reach a record high and businesses are struggling to stay open. Baltimore City leaders must send a clear message that this type of lawlessness will not be tolerated. Failure to protect a marble statue 20 feet high begs the question about the ability to protect private property and even life.

Once again, I call again upon our city leaders to create a public forum for citizens and stakeholders to express their views on public artwork and memorials. Create a legitimate process, considering each on its own merits. If and when it is decided that something should be removed, a plan for its future should be part of the process. It has been said that there are more than 20 “contested” pieces of artwork in Baltimore City today. The greatness of our country comes from our ability to move forward by debating our problems and finding a consensus, not through acquiescing to the whims of unaccountable destruction.

In Budapest after communism fell, the new Hungarian democracy placed statues of the communist dictatorship era in Memento Park, a monument park where the history of the regime would be neither honored nor forgotten. We should have a debate about the proper placement of monuments honoring certain figures. These are decisions that require public input, not leaving the fate of public property in the hands of a small group of thrill-seekers and vandals.

As the Italian American community in Baltimore is left abandoned by city leadership to fish the Christopher Columbus statue from the Inner Harbor and pay for its restoration, the only question that remains is, who is going to be the next victim of vigilante justice? I urge city leaders to take action now to prevent Baltimore from making national and international news once again for all the wrong reasons.

House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (kathy.szeliga@gmail.com) represents Baltimore and Harford counties in the Maryland General Assembly.

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