In what the president of UNICO called “lowlife cowardly acts,” vandals in Garfield defaced a Christopher Columbus statue and damaged a local elementary school named for the Italian explorer.
Police were actively pursuing leads in finding those responsible for what Mayor Richard Rigoglioso called “hateful and disrespectful” acts, and said they’d be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law.”
Meanwhile, members of the local UNICO chapter cleaned up both the statue, which was being protected by a tarp, and paving stones dedicated to deceased loved ones that had been spray-painted with hateful messages at Columbus Park on Outwater Lane.
Monuments to Columbus, including those in Garfield, have drawn fire from protesters over the years. Dozens of cities and states have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People's Day.
Attacks on the statues increased dramatically throughout the U.S. over the weekend, however, because of racially-stoked interest in Columbus’s reported treatment of indigenous communities in the “New World,” including violently colonizing at their expense.
The Columbus statue in Garfield was “defaced by lowlife cowardly acts of destruction,” Dominick J Nicastro Sr., the president of UNICO, the nation’s largest Italian-American service organization.
At the same time, Nicastro praised the work of local officials, UNICO Garfield Chapter President Joseph Barone, Columbus Day National Chairperson Ralph Contini and several others who cleaned up the statue.
“Otter cities that we see on the news do nothing and just let these acts of violence and destruction happen,” he said.
“It's a shame that we have to deal in today's world with these lowlife animals and that's what they are -- animals [committing] cowardly acts, attacking in the middle of the night to destroy history and statues because of some warped minds of some individuals.”
Rigoglioso, the mayor, said the tributes to Columbus will remain in Garfield.
He also asked citizens to “stand in solidarity against this hate and intimidation.”
“These individuals need to understand... that theses expressions of hate will not ever have a home in Garfield,” the mayor said. “We will push back in every manner to protect our city.”
ANYONE who saw anything or has information that could help identify or capture those responsible is asked to contact Garfield police: (973) 478-8500.
Contrary to what children are taught at an early age, Columbus didn’t discover the Americas. Among others, Viking explorer Leif Eriksson sailed to Greenland and Newfoundland in the 11th century.
Columbus sailed from island to island in the late 1400s in what is now the Caribbean, searching for “pearls, precious stones, gold, silver, spices, and other objects and merchandise whatsoever,” History.com reports.
What agitators have focused on are reports that Columbus and his followers enslaved the native people, forcing some to work on plantations and look for gold mines, while selling or sending others to Spain – only to have many die during the journey.
Columbus didn’t find much and eventually returned to Spain while leaving several dozen men behind in what is now the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the History.com report says.
Their settlement was destroyed, however, leaving Columbus and his men to rebuild, it says.
That ended badly, too, with colonists revolting violently against him and his brothers, which forced Spanish authorities to send a new governor.
Although returned to Spain in chains, Columbus was later cleared of serious charges but stripped of his noble titles, according to the History.com report.
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