Philadelphia has been forced to uncover a statue of Christopher Columbus that had been hidden under a giant box since the height of racial-justice protests more than two years ago.
The statue in Marconi Plaza has been covered since June 2020, when progressive Mayor Jim Kenney announced plans to completely remove it as protesters took to the streets after George Floyd’s murder.
But on Friday, a judge ordered the city to finally free the statue and remove the plywood box.
Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt said “the City accepted the donation of the Columbus statue in 1876” and was not able to just ditch it.
“It has a fiduciary duty to preserve that statue, which it designated an historic object in 2017. The Columbus statue is not City property,” the judge ruled.
Local outlet WPVI-TV filmed city workers removing the box late Sunday.
A handful of onlookers cheered as the controversial statue finally emerged from underneath its covering, which since October had been painted the green, white and red of the Italian flag.
Attorney George Bochetto, who represents the statue’s supporters, told the local station that he is “delighted” that “the rule of law still matters.”
“That we are not a society ruled by cancel culture mobs. That all ethnic groups can proudly protect and honor their diverse heritages,” Bochetto said in a statement, referring to the 2020 protests.
He also told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the court’s decision was “not just significant for the Columbus statue and Italian Americans, it’s significant for every ethnic group in this country.”
The mayor’s spokesman, Kevin Lessard, said the city is “very disappointed” in the court’s ruling.
“We continue to believe that the Christopher Columbus statue, which has been a source of controversy in Philadelphia, should be removed from its current position at Marconi Plaza,” Lessard said.
“We will also continue to explore our options for a way forward that allows Philadelphians to celebrate their heritage and culture while respecting the histories and circumstances of everyone’s different backgrounds.”
Supporters of the statue cited Columbus as an emblem of the deep Italian heritage in the city.
Kenney instead pointed to his “much more infamous” history, enslaving Indigenous people and imposing punishments such as severing limbs or even death.
The mayor justified his plan to remove the statue as a public safety issue after the site became the focus for widespread protests.
However, a judge first reviewed that decision last year, saying the city had failed to prove its removal was necessary to protect the public.
With Post wires