by Love and Rage Team
The Christopher Columbus statue at the intersection of the Memorial Parkway and Mohawk Street in Utica, NY was vandalized last night with the word “killer” painted in red. The statue has stood at the intersection since 1952 but a growing number of residents want the monument removed. In June of this year two feuding petitions circulated online, one calling for the removal of the statue and the other pushing for the statue to stay.
Mariesa Cozza created the change.org petition to remove the statue, claiming that “the statue of Columbus represents his legacy of mass murdering, raping, pillaging, torturing, and the enslaving of Indigenous men, women, children, and babies of the western hemisphere.” As of the posting of this article, the petition has 1,863 signatures, with the goal to gather a total of 2,500 signatures. To date, no politicians have stepped forward with any support to take down this statue or any other local statues of slave owners.
In response to the vandalism, local real estate agent and executive director of the Central New York Veterans Outreach Center Vincent Scalise put out a $1,500 reward reward “for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.” Supporters on his facebook page threatened physical violence in response to the vandalism.
This incident in Utica is the most recent in the ever growing wave of protests and actions aimed at taking down statues that glorify white supremacists, slave owners, and colonizers. In nearby Syracuse, the newly formed Resilient Indigenous Action Collective is leading a campaign to have Mayor Walsh remove the city’s Columbus monument which the group says “represents genocide, rape, land theft, slavery, and ongoing colonization.”
While some Utica residents are up in arms over the graffiti on the statue, others are more concerned with the enduring legacy of colonialism and anti-indigenous as well as anti-Black violence that still plagues the city. One of the more recent and glaring incidents of this is the 2013 Utica police killing of Native Mohawk and Tlingit teenager Jessie Lee Rose. The campaign of harassment of Rose and his family was so severe that after he was killed, his entire family moved out of Utica in fear for their lives.
The local activist group Utica Abolitionists is working closely with Jessie Lee Rose’s family as well as the family of Walter Washington, a Black man killed by the UPD in 2005, to push for justice in both cases. The group created “The Demands of the People” which is listed here in its entirety:
The Abolitionists have plans for a protest to demand Justice for Walter rally on September 30 and a larger rally and march planned to demand justice for both Rose and Washington and to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day on October 10. That march will snake its way through the city, stopping at both locations where the two were killed by the UPD and ending up at the Columbus monument which activists see as a symbol of anti-Black and anti-indigenous violence.
As Indigenous People’s Day inches ever closer, the wounds of both indigenous and Black people and locally are still open, and still raw. While some in Utica choose to ignore this violence, a growing number of people place more value on human lives than on the lifeless statue celebrating a murderer, rapist, and colonizer. And they are willing to act in the form of protests and organizing to put an end to this violence.