Advertisement

Chula Vista puts Christopher Columbus statue in storage citing ‘public safety concerns’

Workers clean red paint off the Christopher Columbus statue at Discovery Park in Chula Vista last year
Chula Vista city workers Peter Morales, left, and Hugo Martinez work to clean red paint off the Christopher Columbus statue at Discovery Park in Chula Vista on Oct. 14.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Chula Vista pulled down its statue of Christopher Columbus and placed it in storage Friday, hours before a planned protest to push for its removal.

“The statue was removed out of public safety concerns,” the city announced in a news release. “The statue was removed and stored early this morning.”

The statue’s longtime location, in the city’s Discovery Park since 1991, was the site of a protest set for 2 p.m. Friday. It was that protest that prompted the proactive removal.

Mayor Mary Casillas Salas said she spoke with the city manager and police chief Thursday and decided to take it down preemptively to prevent it from being pulled down during the protest and possibly hurting someone.

Advertisement

“Our primary concern was the safety of our community,” Salas said, “and certainly we didn’t want to have anything exacerbate the tension that was being felt throughout the United States.”

Statues have been pulled down by protesters in other parts of the country, including Confederate figures. Demonstrations around the county continue in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, who died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Video of the incident sparked outrage and protests across the country and in San Diego County, decrying racism and police bias and brutality.

Likenesses of Queen Victoria, Cecil Rhodes and King Leopold, symbols of colonial rule in Africa, have been taken down on the continent they exploited.

For many people, celebrating or commemorating Columbus is an affront to Native Americans, given his role in starting European colonization of the Americas, leading to the deaths of millions of native people.

Advertisement

In a news release, the protest organizers said they want “the brutal legacy of Cristopher Columbus permanently removed from Kumeyaay lands.” The Kumeyaay are native to the region. The organizers said they want Chula Vista to remove the statue, rename the park and recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The statue in Discovery Park has repeatedly been vandalized, most recently in October on the federal holiday that bears his name. Here and across the country, people have dumped red paint on his likeness to symbolize the blood of Native Americans killed by Europeans seeking to conquer the continent.

In announcing the removal of the statue, the city noted that discussions to take it down had already been under way; in February, the Chula Vista Human Relations Commission agreed to ask the City Council consider the move.

The New Zealand city of Hamilton removed a bronze statue of the British naval officer for whom it is named — a man who is accused of killing indigenous Maori people in the 1860s.

Advertisement

The talks were temporarily halted because of COVID-19 restrictions. But the city said the discussion will resume.

For her part, Salas said the statue’s ultimate fate is not for her to say, but she thinks it should go.

“I really think that people need to be heard, and the historical pain that people have suffered, whether you like it or not, needs to be acknowledged if you want our nation to heal,” Salas said.

Chula Vista City Councilman Steve Padilla posted a statement on his Facebook page noting the controversy surrounding the statue and that the city put it in storage “given all that is happening nationwide regarding America’s legacy of racism.”

Advertisement

He said he looked forward to “an important community conversation about the final fate of the statue” as well as actions the city can take to ensure all residents feel safe and welcome.

The statue will stay in storage until after the discussions happen and a decision is made.


Advertisement