Activists last night went after another controversial monument in Northeast Baltimore, this time using a sledgehammer that caused some permanent damage.
In a video uploaded to YouTube by the activist group Popular Resistance, a man who self-identifies as “Ty” narrates why he and many others revile the city’s 225-year-old obelisk erected in honor of explorer Christopher Columbus.
The video shows “Ty” walking up to the monument and taping a sign to the base that reads, “The future is racial and economic justice.” As he picks up the sledgehammer, another activist stands nearby holding a second sign that reads, “Racism: Tear it down.” “Ty” then repeatedly swings a sledgehammer at the base until the plaque crumbles to the ground. Most of the obelisk appears to be otherwise unscathed.
The monument sits at the corner of Harford Road and Walther Avenue, across the street from Herring Run Park. The text of the destroyed centuries-old plaque read, “Sacred to the Memory of Chris. Columbus Oct. XII MDCC VIIIC.”
A short 2009 article on the Monument City Blog says the obelisk was originally placed at the estate of the French consul to Baltimore in 1792, in honor of the 300-year anniversary of the Italian explorer’s discovery of the Americas. It was later moved to a tree-lined area across from Herring Run Park in 1964.
Many activists don’t view Columbus as worthy of the fanfare.
“Christopher Columbus symbolizes the initial invasion of European capitalism into the Western Hemisphere,” “Ty” narrates in the video. “Columbus initiated a centuries-old wave of terrorism, murder, genocide, rape, slavery, ecological degradation and capitalist exploitation of labor in the Americas. That Columbian wave of destruction continues on the backs of Indigenous, African-American and brown people.”
Local activists and officials joined forces last year for a campaign pushing the City of Baltimore rename Columbus Day to “Indigenous Peoples’ and Italian-Americans’ Day.” Many of the city’s Italian-Americans and others who viewed Columbus favorably objected to the effort.
The proposal, sponsored by Councilman Brandon Scott, initially passed a preliminary council vote 12-2 in November, but ultimately fell short in a final vote right before the council adjourned.
“Ty” explains in the video why Columbus’ reputation remains a sticking point for many local residents who descend from slaves: “Racist monuments to slave owners and murderers have always bothered me. Baltimore’s poverty is concentrated in African-American households, and these statues are just an extra slap in the face. They were built in the 20th century in response to a movement for African Americans’ human dignity. What kind of a culture goes to such lengths to build such hate-filled monuments? What kind of a culture clings to those monuments in 2017?”
At a press conference on Monday afternoon, police said they weren’t sure of the exact time that “Ty” and his two accomplices — the one holding the sign, the other recording the affair — visited the monument. Police spokesman T.J. Smith said they hadn’t identified a suspect, “but it’s something that we’re following up on.”
“It’s dangerous, and it’s also unnecessary,” Smith said of the crime. He noted there’s an official “process” to taking down a monument that wasn’t followed, and that it was possible the obelisk could have fallen over, but “fortunately it didn’t.”
The attack on the monument – apparently the oldest one to Columbus in the country – follows a week in which the city expediently removed all four of its Confederates monuments in the wake of the racially motivated Aug. 12 unrest in Charlottesville, Va. In the aftermath, protesters in Baltimore rallied around the Lee-Jackson Monument in the Wyman Park Dell, chanting, “Tear it down!” The next day, someone defaced the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Bolton Hill with red paint.
One day later, Mayor Catherine Pugh had those two statues and two others removed overnight.
The city has two other monuments to Columbus located in Druid Hill Park and Little Italy. Smith said neither of them were found damaged on Monday.
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