A New Hate Crime?

How do we deal with vandals who deface statues of Christopher Columbus?

Are they just violating vandalism laws or are they committing a hate crime? Clearly, smearing red paint or writing the word “murderer” on the navigator from Genoa is not just graffiti.  It’s a protest against honoring the man.  Do the vandals care if Columbus was ethnic Italian?  Is it the man himself they despise or all Euro-Caucasians?

There is a new initiative among some Italian American organizations to lobby government to classify defacing Christopher Columbus as a hate crime. It’s a great idea, but will anyone take it seriously?

What I like about the idea is that it puts our community on the offensive regarding 1492. For three decades now, we have been defending Columbus against revisionist history, charges of genocide, and misusing him as the symbol of all Euro-Caucasian crimes in the Americas.  Columbus has become the face of racism to the extent that even many Euro-Americans are collaborating in his defamation, mainly out of ignorance or media distortions.  It would be a nice change to reverse the charges.

There isn’t any question that the anti-Columbus movement is a denunciation of European exploration and mass immigration.  In other words, Native Americans consider White people as the original undocumented aliens. Had their ancestors wiped out Columbus and all the other Europeans on the beaches, the Indigenous paradise would have continued unto today.  At best this is a pipe dream, at worst it is xenophobia to the extreme.

Do Native Americans also bear animus against Black Africans as well as East and South Asians for entering the portal that Columbus opened? They don’t dare say it, so their venom is directed at the Paleface. Splatter Columbus and you are targeting Euro-Americans and their dominant culture.

So where is the Italian connection? I would guess that 90% of the Columbus statues and images around the nation were erected by Italian American groups.  (A major exception is the Columbus Fountain in front of Union Station in Washington, DC, a government project lobbied by the Catholic Knights of Columbus in 1912.)  It is our community that stands guard over these symbols of the Columbian legacy.  If anyone is paying the least attention in this country, it is clear that an attack on Columbus is an attack on Italian American culture since it is we who parade our attachment to him in the streets of America.  It is our community that feels the sting and our community that reacts.  Columbus is our hero.  He marks our first arrival in the Americas.

Let’s suppose that, by some miraculous revelation, Columbus was in fact Jewish. (Lord knows he has been the Holy Grail of Jewish researchers!) Would, then, the Jewish community declare the vandalism of their new hero to be anti-Semitism?  Or would the vandals have to leave a swastika instead of a schmear of red paint?  Either way, it would not be simple vandalism.

If going the hate crime route is a proper initiative, what are the obstacles? One is ridicule – the same ridicule that has denied our community any victory over stereotyping.  We are not taken seriously because half our community is either apathetic or supports the offending side.  Columbus has already been publicly abandoned by our academics.  I can easily imagine their polemics against any hate crime initiative.  Nevertheless, if all our organizations press this issue, perhaps we can be taken seriously.

Another obstacle is in what direction to proceed in establishing the hate crime designation. Presently, a petition is being circulated on the internet to U.S. Attorney General William Barr.  In short, members of our community want to go right to the top to protect Columbus.  But, I wonder how practical it is to leap out of state when our true political strength lies within state borders.  Here in New York, we have strong representation in our legislature as well as in the governor.  We have a State Police Hate Crimes Task Force which gets its marching orders from Governor Andrew Cuomo.  Cuomo has defended the Columbus Circle monument as well as offered state funds for a Mother Cabrini statue.  Our means are in place.

Other states with strong Italian American numbers can emulate New York’s method. -JLM

3 thoughts on “A New Hate Crime?”

  1. Ponder the following:
    Associated Press – Wednesday, October 16, 2019

    PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A city councilor in Rhode Island says she thinks the
    recent vandalism to a Christopher Columbus statue is a good thing.

    Democrat Katherine Kerwin told WPRO radio on Wednesday that she thinks
    the statue should be removed and that healthy civil disobedience is good
    for society and the city of Providence.

    Kerwin says that she doesn’t know who’s responsible for the vandalism
    but that “I stand with them.” She praised the vandal for “creating a
    really healthy dialogue in Providence.”

    Democratic Mayor Jorge Elorza said Tuesday he’d consider moving the
    statue to another neighborhood.
    The only thing that should be moved, is her out of office. This is a pure form of racism! Imagine, had that been a statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King? Even if the only reason is because they disagree with his philosophy. The black community would never sit still for this, and, rightfully so. There is no room for this racist to be in office. I not only call for a written apology from her, but also her resignation. She should represent all the people, not just the screamers and misguided small faction of publicity hounds.

  2. Vandalism of the Columbus statues is both a violation of vandalism laws and is a hate crime.
    The violater is destroying public property, and his or her venom is directed against Columbus himself as a result of a widespread, faulty revisionist campaign depicting him as a torturer, barbarian, and invader–an icon appropriated by Italian Americans for a momentous discovery that changed the course of the development of Western civilization and vicariously emblematic of their own ancestors’ struggles during the mass migration (1880s – 1920).
    This vandalism stretches nationwide annually, not just in New York. So, it’s appropriate to petition and campaign against it in our nation’s capital. To my fellow Italian Americans I say it’s time to go on the offensive and be militant! Let’s take on all comers even it it means our own!! If this petiton drive acts as a catalyst to mobilize us nationwide, the DOJ and elected officials WILL take us seriously! I’m on board! Are you?!

  3. So, the Governor of New York has offered state funds for a Mother Cabrini statue. How about that! Mayor DeBlasio’s wife has a contest to honor the great women that have contributed to the betterment of the city. Mother Cabrini received the largest number of votes. The second place finisher received less than half that amount. The mayor’s wife decided that Mother Cabrini should be ignored. Imagine, had the mayor’s wife been white and the wonderful Shirley Chilssom garnered the maximum votes and passed over for a second placed white woman. A definite injustice! Racism is ugly and comes in many forms, not just black and white. These are attacks against all Italian Americans, they just come in different disguises.

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