Workers covered a Philly statue of Christopher Columbus with wood Tuesday morning after three straight days of heated gatherings around it, and as statues of the 15th-century explorer are coming down around the country.
Images from SkyForce 10 showed the Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza surrounded by trucks and workers from the Streets Department, who had gone through the fence around the statue. The workers appeared to be building a wooden box.
"Boxing of the statue is being done in agreement with people who were trying to restrain us in order to preserve it and to keep it safe," Mayor Jim Kenney said in the question-and-answer portion of a COVID-19 press conference Tuesday.
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After a neighborhood resident filed court papers, the city agreed to cover the statue with wood for now -- and to sheath it in translucent plexiglass or another material within 10 days. The city will also post a message that the statue is being shielded for its protection and until a final decision is made on whether it will stay in Marconi Plaza.
He said the city will not take down the statue without hearing public input. It will be a different process than the removal of the statue of former mayor and police commissioner Frank Rizzo earlier this month.
"The [Rizzo] statue had become the focal point of a lot of protests, and people trying to set it on fire, and we were concerned about the Municipal Services Building," Kenney said. "So we decided in the interest of public safety to remove it. We removed it at night, clearly because there would’ve been 2, 3, 4,000 people during the day. We wanted to avoid any kind of confrontation or injury."
"That’s not the case with the Columbus statue, there’s not an emergency declaration in place. We will follow the process as we know it," Kenney added.
Kenney was also asked about the removal of Lou Campione as Captain of the 1st Police District. Campione was seen in videos at the statue over the weekend as it was surrounded by men with bats and guns.
"Capt. Campione's change-in-command was one of several command changes that took place yesterday. These command changes were not related to any specific incident," a police spokesman wrote in an email. Kenney said that Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and other commanding staff made the decision to remove Campione.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 said in a statement on Twitter that Campione was removed "following his diffusion of a volatile and chaotic situation."
Campione was seen in videos posted by journalists from Unicorn Riot, telling them they were inciting a riot for filming the armed men gathered around the statue. It wasn't clear if police gave the armed men the same order to disperse. "All vigilantism is inappropriate, and these individuals only bring more danger to themselves and the city," Kenney wrote on Twitter.
A crowd gathered near the Columbus statue Tuesday afternoon and rallied in support of Capt. Campione, repeatedly chanting "We want Lou!" and "Kenney sucks!"
A few confrontations later occurred Tuesday evening near Marconi Plaza between Black Lives Matter protesters and supporters of Campione.
On Saturday, a reporter with the nonprofit journalism organization – which describes its work in part as "dedicated to exposing root causes of dynamic social and environmental issues" – was confronted by some of the men as he took video of the proceedings.
Some men tried to swat his cellphone away while another grabbed and pulled his bicycle. Another man sliced the bike’s tires.
Columbus statues in Wilmington, Delaware, and Camden, New Jersey, have been taken down this month. Activists have said the explorer's history, which includes the enslavement of several peoples in the West Indies, is cause for re-examining his depictions in public.