WEST ORANGE, NJ — In the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the Black Lives Matter protests that have broken out across the country over the last several weeks, many statues depicting Confederate leaders have either been defaced and destroyed or removed by the cities they’re in, with officials citing the glorification of slavery and racism. Christopher Columbus statues have also come under fire. On June 13, West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi announced in a video on his Facebook page that the town would be removing the Columbus monument at the intersection of Valley Road and Kingsley Street. The announcement came after the monument was defaced several times, with a sign saying “murderer” hung from the top.
“Support for the monument does not change the facts,” Parisi said in the video. “The legend of Columbus does not match the history. The man, statues or monuments celebrating his life are divisive, a symbol of hate and oppression, and cannot remain as part of our community. The township will remove the monument, and together we will find a more appropriate message to replace it.”
An online petition asking that the Columbus monument be taken down began circulating before Parisi’s announcement. The petition, started by Eniya Jaber, stated that Columbus is not deserving of a memorial; it had 1,228 signatures as of June 22.
“Public veneration of a problematic historical figure like Christopher Columbus should not exist anywhere, especially in a town that claims to be ‘stigma free,’” Jaber wrote. “Christopher Columbus didn’t discover the Americas, he monetized them. One cannot ‘discover’ land that already belonged to people for at least 15,000 years. These original people were indigenous, and they populated the land with hundreds of small nations and tribes before Columbus had ever arrived.”
She also cited the slavery and genocide of Native Americans as reasons to remove the monument.
“He never set foot on the land that is now the United States. He only saw the coasts of Central and South America,” Jaber wrote. “Therefore, in regards to both morality and basic truth, everything about Columbus’ voyages were wrong. Any justification of Christopher Columbus’ behavior, including the brainless belief known as ‘Manifest Destiny,’ is unacceptable.”
Sal Piarulli started a petition to counter Jaber’s petition, reposting a comment from his former teacher at Seton Hall Prep, Anthony Lupica.
“Those responsible have committed hate crimes of racism against Italian Americans. These revisionists have blatantly considered themselves as ultimate judges of Columbus and sentenced him for genocide and slavery,” Lupica wrote. “They must have not believed that slavery existed among indigenous people. They must have forgotten that slavery existed in ancient times.”
The Orange/West Orange chapter of UNICO, which has maintained the monument, did not publicly comment on Parisi’s announcement that it would be removed, except to say “Destruction or defacing of property personal or public for that matter, should not be condoned or legitimized and certainly condemned,” in a Facebook post on June 12. UNICO did not respond to a request for comment by press time on June 23.
In a phone interview on June 22, Parisi said the town did not purchase or place the Columbus monument on Valley Road. The Valley Civic Association, which is no longer an active organization, put it there. But the town owns the property and has the authority to remove it; Parisi said it will happen soon. When the monument comes down, it will be passed off to founding members of the Valley Civic Association.
“Some understood, some didn’t,” Parisi said about the residents who commissioned the Columbus monument and the conversation he had with them about removing it. “I understand that, but we have an obligation to display what we want to represent here.”