Following weeks of protests, physical confrontations and allegations of police bias, Mayor Jim Kenney announced the city will “seek the removal” of the Christopher Columbus statue in South Philadelphia.
On Wednesday, city officials will ask the Philadelphia Art Commission to approve the removal of the statue from Marconi Plaza on South Broad Street. City officials also said the public will have until July 21 to share their thoughts on the statue by completing an online form.
The public will also be able to share their comments at an Art Commission at a later date. The Art Commission will then vote to approve or disapprove the city's request to move the statue.
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“Like many communities across the country, Philadelphia is in the midst of a much-needed reckoning about the legacy of systemic racism and oppression in this country and around the world,” Mayor Jim Kenney said.
“Part of that reckoning requires reexamining what historical figures deserve to be commemorated in our public spaces.”
The city owns the statue. However, the art commission has a say in its display. The commission was created in Philadelphia's Home Rule Charter to consider how public art is used in the city, including relocating or "decommissioning" the works under its control.
Philadelphia also has a monument to Columbus on the waterfront. That monument is controlled by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, which has has covered the base of it. The DRWC has said it is open to "a range of options for the monument, including its removal."
The announcement about South Philadelphia's Columbus statue comes a day after another violent incident between counter protesters and protesters at the now-covered statue. District Attorney Larry Krasner announced assault and related charges against one man stemming from one of a number of protests of the statue while suggesting “unequal application of the law" by police during the demonstrations.
Krasner alleged that 58-year-old John Mooney repeatedly told a Black man who is a professional photographer “Get out of here, boy," before punching him in the face Tuesday evening at Marconi Plaza. Mooney was charged with misdemeanor counts of ethnic intimidation, simple assault, reckless endangering and harassment.
Krasner said such incidents “continue to raise serious questions about policing and unequal application of the law" in the city. For the past month, he said, thousands have taken to the streets to demand equal justice and accountability for police and other institutions “and have done so without wielding bats, hammers, firearms, or racial epithets.”
However, Krasner said, during altercations at the plaza and surrounding neighborhood “anti-racism protesters and journalists have been verbally and physically assaulted, in direct view of law enforcement officers who have – by the numbers – made far more arrests of protesters and journalists than they have of these bat-wielding, assaultive, and threatening individuals."
The police department declined comment Wednesday. It wasn't immediately clear whether Mooney had an attorney.
The city last week built a wooden box around the Columbus statue following clashes between protesters and residents as Mayor Jim Kenney first announced the process to decide its future.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that about 50 protesters who had walked south from an earlier protest over police funding were engaged by more than 100 men who had gathered wielding baseball bats and hammers. The men dropped the bats when protesters arrived, and the groups exchanged harsh words. Several members of each group soon began shoving each other, and at least one man was punched in the face, and two men — one from each group — were detained by police, the paper said.