PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Crews have removed the red paint that vandals splashed on a statue of Christopher Columbus in Providence.
The statue located at the intersection of Elmwood and Reservoir Avenues was covered with red paint. There was also a sign that said: “Stop Celebrating Genocide.”
The damage was discovered on the morning of Columbus Day, which is the federal holiday commemorating the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas.
Crews immediately cleaned the statue with a power washer.
The statue has been damaged before, most recently in 2017.
The holiday has become controversial over the years, as critics say the Italian explorer helped launched centuries of genocide against indigenous populations in the Americas.
Some states and cities have opted to replace Columbus Day with “Indigenous People’s Day.”
“For me, this day could become an expression of cultures that were lost so that people would have more understanding of what happened,” said Darrell Waldron, executive director of the Rhode Island Regional Indian Council.
That idea has received backlash from some Italian-Americans.
Providence Councilman David Salvatore said he believes the incident is a “teachable moment.”
“We have an opportunity to reach common ground on an issue that people from all spectrums feel passionately about,” Salvatore said. “Recognizing and teaching about our indigenous population is important to understanding our history as a whole. The vandalism also opens the chance to debate about the significance of monuments and statues in relation to our remembrance of history.”
Salvatore also acknowledged the importance Columbus Day has for Italian Americans.
“At the same time, I believe we should continue to preserve the weekend to celebrate and recognize the Italian culture’s many contributions to our state and country,” he added.
Anthony Napolitano, the president of the Italo-American Club of Rhode Island, said he doesn’t think anyone should deface any statues but he expected the Columbus one might be targeted on Monday.
“It’s really disrespectful to the Italian-American community to touch that statue,” he said.
Napolitano said he hopes people can understand why the holiday is important to those who share his heritage.
“Christopher Columbus was a great Italo-American who discovered America—no matter what they say,” he said. “They try to twist it and turn it; it’s not true, that’s the history that we have. Nothing’s going to change it.”
Napolitano said he never understood why the statue is in the Elmwood section of the city. He plans to propose having it relocated to a more historically significant location.
“I remember as a kid that I used to question to my dad and say, ‘Why is it over there, when it’s not up the hill?’ And nobody could give me an answer,” Napolitano recalled.
Federal Hill would be a more fitting location, according to Napolitano.
“Right here on Atwells Avenue, across from the Holy Ghost church, which is the mother church to the Italian immigrants,” he explained. “Years ago, when the Italians came here, they were asked to go to the church, where at the church they got jobs and they helped build this church.”
While moving the statue may not guarantee it won’t be vandalized, Napolitano said the plan would include putting security cameras in place.
“We’ll watch the statue,” he said.
Napolitano said he plans to reach out to city and state leaders as early as next week to submit his proposal.