Middletown’s Christopher Columbus Statue Tagged on Columbus Day

Today, I received an anonymous tip with only a single image attached (see above). It appears as though someone spray painted “murder” on the statue of Columbus that sits at Harbor Park, alongside the Connecticut River and in the vicinity of Wesleyan’s boat house.

The tagging is especially meaningful given that today the federal government, the state of Connecticut, and the City of Middletown recognize Columbus Day.

Statues of Columbus in Bridgeport, New Haven, and Norwalk were also tagged in coincidence with the holiday. The Middletown Press reports:

Police departments around the state and country have been working together after learning that an anarchist group was advocating widespread vandalism against Columbus monuments, Bridgeport Police Chief Armando Perez said.

The Press’s article goes on to report that, in response to these taggings and tweets from the anarchist group Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement, local police departments are ramping up protection efforts for these…um…pieces of stone.

Now, that last comment may seem a bit snarky, but it’s quite ridiculous that, in this political moment, when there are at least 3 white nationalist organizations publicly operating in Connecticut, local police departments are devoting considerable resources to protecting statues enshrining a man who, according to Indian Country Today:

  1. Retracted a promised monetary award to one of his sailors who was the first among the expedition to actually spot “new” land
  2. Never landed on American soil
  3. Painted a horrible picture of peaceful natives
  4. Employed rapists and murderers
  5. Enslaved native people for gold
  6. Provided native sex slaves to his men
  7. Used the bodies of native people as dog food
  8. Was pardoned after being arrested for mismanaging the lands he had seized

I think the question that local governmental officials, including police chiefs, should be asking is “Can we, as those who represent our communities and have the power to remove these monuments, justify their continued existence without also endorsing the violence that Columbus unquestionably perpetrated?”

I think many have known (and are beginning to realize) that the answer is summarily “no.”

Last year, when the same statue of Columbus in Middletown was tagged by replacing the word “discoverer” with “looter,” the Middletown Press also reported on the incident. The reporter who wrote the article reached out to Professor of American Studies J. Kehualani Kauanui (who helped to found the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association and has also been active at Wesleyan in getting the University to comply with the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act) for comment on the incident that similarly coincided with Columbus day.

Kauanui’s words still ring true:

“We must question why this came to be a federal holiday in the first place…In the last year, over a dozen U.S. cities have passed measures designating the day usually reserved to honor him as Indigenous Peoples Day —– with Denver and Phoenix being the most recent. Middletown should be next!”

Instead of getting trapped in the ethical debate over these statues’ tagging, our public officials should be seriously questioning whether Columbus should continue to be celebrated, whether that be in the form of a governmental holiday or a local monument.