Protesters bring down Columbus statue

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People stand around the toppled Christopher Columbus statue at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul in June. (Photo by Evan Frost / MPR News.)

By AP and MPR News

On June 9th, protesters in Minnesota pulled down a statue of Christopher Columbus outside the State Capitol amid continuing anger over the police killing of George Floyd.
The protesters threw a rope around the 10-foot bronze statue and pulled it off its stone pedestal.

The protesters, led by Mike Forcia with the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, said they consider Columbus a symbol of genocide against Native Americans. The Minnesota State Patrol told the group that they could fill out paperwork to have the statue removed, but they said they had tried many times to remove it through the political process, but without success.

“We don’t have to wait for the state,” Forcia said. “We don’t have to wait for the process because we’ve already waited far too long.”

Forcia said he wants the input of Dakota people on what to do next since the statue was on Dakota land.

They also demanded justice for Floyd, who died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck and held it there even after he stopped struggling.

State Patrol troopers in helmets, who provide security in the Capitol complex, stood by at a distance but did not try to stop the protesters, who celebrated afterward with Native American singing and drumming.

The troopers eventually formed a line to protect the toppled statue so it could be taken away.

“There will be consequences”

Asked about the toppling of the statue, Gov. Tim Walz called it a dangerous act and said he was surprised at how loosely it was moored.

“I certainly do not condone, nor is this the right way to go about this change.” Walz told reporters.

He described it as an act of “civil disobedience” and said “there will be consequences” for the person who led it.

John Harrington, the state’s public safety commissioner, said the State Patrol officer in charge on the ground at the Capitol made the decision not to intervene to stop removal of the statue.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, said the current process for deciding what is displayed at the Capitol is “not well defined” and needs to get better and more accessible.

“I’m not going to perform for folks. I’m not going to feign sadness. I will not shed a tear over the loss of a statue that honored someone that by of his own admission sold 9- and 10-year-old girls into sex slavery. So, let us start there,” Flanagan said during a press conference with Walz and state DFL legislative leaders.

The protest followed a similar incident night in Richmond, Va., where protesters pulled down a Columbus statue in a city park, set it on fire and rolled it into a nearby lake.
The Republican assistant minority leader in the Minnesota House, Jim Nash of Waconia, released a statement expressing his dismay, saying he was “frustrated and alarmed the decision was made to not deploy sufficient State Trooper presence in order to protect property. There is a process to petition the removal of artwork at the Capitol, pulling it down with a rope isn’t that process.”

But Flanagan, who was at a press conference hours earlier in which Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington noted he was aware of the move by some to remove the statue, tweeted later: “All Minnesotans should feel welcome at the Minnesota State Capitol, and our state is long overdue for a hard look at the symbols, statues, and icons that were created without the input of many of our communities.

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