Petition calls for removal of Christopher Columbus statue in Newport

NEWPORT, R.I. (WLNE) – A petition is circulating the city of Newport that calls on the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue that stands at the intersection of Bellevue Avenue and Memorial Boulevard.

The statue has been looking over the intersection for over 60 years, and was put there by Italian American residents of Newport that took decades to raise the money to erect it, said city councilor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano.

“I’m certainly open to a discussion, but I will admit most of the councilors were kind of taken by surprise. We’ve never had a real issue,” said Napolitano. She said the only time an issue was associated with the statue was in the 1990s when it was vandalized.

Napolitano said the city council “hasn’t had a chance to absorb (the petition),” but she said she’s against the removal of the statue.

“I’m not sure it rises to the level that we should be discussing taking down history instead of building history.”

The petition, started by Sarah Berkman, had close to 2,500 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon. Berkman, who didn’t respond to our request for comment, wrote “Columbus is a deeply offensive symbol of hate, trauma, and injustice, especially for indigenous peoples. It’s time to take the statue down and shift Columbus Day and the parade to celebrate and honor the Indigenous people who have suffered for far too long. We Italian Americans can easily find a more accurate and rightful hero.”

Newport Mayor Jamie Bova said in a statement that she’s open to the discussion.

“I’m Italian American, I care a lot about the discussion, especially in terms of recognizing and honoring Italian American heritage in this area. I’m open to the conversation, and if folks who put together the petition get enough signatures and bring it to the City Council, we would have the discussion on the council then,” wrote Bova.

Residents of Newport passing by the statue Tuesday said they had seen the petition circulating social media and hadn’t given the statue much thought before.

“If it’s seriously offending people then we should think about it, but again it’s part of history and history needs to be remembered and not try to be erased and maybe it can be a reminder in a good way,” said Jacqueline LaPierre. “I kind of wouldn’t like to see it go, I’ve always lived here and it’s always been there.”

Others, like Sharron Myers, were pleased to see the petition.

“I really stand behind the idea of wanting to take down something that is promoting imperialism and that’s kind of built off the fact of oppression and taking advantage of others.”

Myers said she moved to Newport from upstate New York to live in a more inclusive place and is happy to see other Newport residents trying to spark change.

“Being a biracial person, to have a community that’s primarily white, primarily wealthy pay attention to what’s going on in our nation is definitely encouraging.”

Newport Police said they haven’t heard of any threats against the statue, but have started doing extra check-ups on it.

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Categories: Newport, News, Regional News, Rhode Island