Philadelphia paints Italian flag on Columbus statue box, renewing controversy

On what was once its namesake holiday, the Christopher Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza will remain sealed in a box — though this year it’s getting a fresh coat of paint.

The monument’s plywood house, which has hidden it for 2½ years, is now decorated with vertical stripes in the green, red and white colors of the Italian flag. The makeover took place on Friday night, three days before the anniversary officially known in Philadelphia as Indigenous Peoples Day.

City officials performed the painting at the request of Councilman Mark Squilla, according to KYW.

Squilla’s district adjoins Marconi Park, and although it does not include the square with the statue, he has been a staunch ally of the group trying to unbox the figure of the slave-trading explorer and celebrate the man they seen as a symbol of Italian-American. heritage.

“I was hoping that we would have it before Columbus Day and the Columbus Day Parade, so we could unveil the box and have a big ceremony there, as part of the Columbus Day festivities,” said attorney George Bochetto. about unpacking.

Bochetto pleaded in court that the statue should remain in place since it was first packed up shortly after June 2020 protests prompted Mayor Jim Kenney to announce that it would be removed.

The legal battle over this action has been going on for almost three years.

Over that period, pro-Columbus graffiti, art and signage appeared. Wire representations of the Pinta, Niña and Santa Maria ships sit along the monument’s fence. Before it was painted, “Free Columbus” was scrawled in green spray paint on the plywood case. Signs taped to the temporary barricade read “Don’t rethink the name of Columbus Day… Rethink the names you call Columbus,” and gave an idea of ​​how the holiday arose.

By Saturday afternoon, the messages all surrounded a box with the colors of the Italian flag. A police car was stationed next to the whole thing.

The city of Philadelphia told Billy Penn they still plan to take down the statue. “The timing of the removal remains dependent on the resolution of the ongoing litigation,” spokesman Kevin Lessard said.

Original plans called for putting it in storage, but Lessard said last year the city was open to “inquiries from individuals or organizations interested in working to find a suitable home for the statue.”

Emily Neil for Billy Penn

The city has ping-pong court appeals back and forth with the Friends of Marconi Plaza and others in favor of keeping the statue in place, represented by lawyer Bochetto.

The issue is not only whether the statue can stay, but whether the current box hiding it is legal. On June 23, the Commonwealth Court heard oral arguments in three pending cases on the matter, without making any rulings.

Decisions on the pending cases could come at any time, according to Bochetto. “It could be today, could be a week from today, could be six months from today,” the lawyer said.

Bochetto, Councilor Squilla, and others filed a separate lawsuit against Kenney last year, alleging discrimination against Italian Americans due to the mayor’s executive order that, among other things, renamed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. The city filed a motion to dismiss that lawsuit, and the court’s decision is still pending.

The pivotal statue case is the city’s appeal from Judge Paula Patrick’s August 2021 decision in the court of common pleas. Patrick found that the Board of Licensing and Inspection Review’s approval of the Philadelphia Historical Commission’s decision to remove the statue was “without any legal basis.”

A few days before Indigenous Peoples Day/Columbus Day last year, Judge Patrick orders the box to be removed. The city appealed the decision and filed an emergency application to stay the order, which the Commonwealth Court upheld.

The box had previously stood unchanged for two and a half years
Emily Neil for Billy Penn

Bochetto said he believed his team’s recent arguments “went very well”. If the court does rule in favor of the city and allows the statue to be removed, he said he plans to take that decision to the Father. to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The attorney has several other pending cases centered on the removal of Columbus statues in Pittsburgh and Syracuse. A judge ruled in Pittsburgh that the city’s mayor did have the prerogative to remove the statue if he wanted, and Bochetto appealed the decision there. Courts in Syracuse, NY, decided in favor of Bochetto’s case that the Columbus statue should remain there, although the city has since appealed the decision and activists in the city still ask for its removal.

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