Protesters on Minnesota capitol grounds in St. Paul tore down a statue of Christopher Columbus on Wednesday.
The demonstrators threw a rope around the 10-foot bronze Columbus statue and pulled it down. State Patrol troopers at the capitol reportedly stood by at a distance but did not attempt to interfere and stop the statue from being toppled.
Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said authorities were aware of the plans to topple the statue and said officials “will be out there to meet with the group and explain to them the legal process” for removing a statue, The Twin Cities Pioneer Press reported. State Patrol officials reportedly did meet with the protesters and explained the statue removal process, but it was evidently ignored as protesters proceeded to topple the statue on their own.
No arrests were made following the incident, though the Star Tribune reported the State Patrol identified the individual who instigated the statue toppling as Mike Forcia, a member of the River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa of the Ojibe. Officials told Forcia he will be charged with destruction of property.
“I’m willing to take that,” Forcia told the Tribune. “The paradigm shift is happening and it was time.”
Forcia said officials had told previous groups urging the removal of the statue that they would have to work through the formal process, but he said that had not worked in the past.
Members of the Dakota and Ojibwe Indian tribes were reportedly among the crowd that helped pull the statue down. After the statue fell, many of the gathered protesters celebrated with Native American singing, dancing, and drumming.
After the statue fell, officers did come forward to form a line around the statue so that it could be removed.
“After speaking to Commissioner Harrington and learning of the decisions he made on behalf of the administration whether to protect or not to protect property on the Capitol grounds I was frustrated and alarmed the decision was made to not deploy sufficient State Trooper presence in order to protect property,” Republican Assistant House Minority Leader Jim Nash said of the incident. “There is a process to petition the removal of artwork at the Capitol, pulling it down with a rope isn’t that process.”
However Democratic Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, who is a member of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe, said on social media, “I can’t say I’m sad the statue of Christopher Columbus is gone. I’m not.”
“All Minnesotans should feel welcome at the Minnesota State Capitol, and our state is long overdue for a hard look at the symbols, statues, and icons that were created without the input of many of our communities,” Flanagan added.
Democratic Gov. Tim Walz was also asked to address the protesters prior to the toppling of the statue but reportedly declined. Asked by The Pioneer Press if the state should remove controversial statues and landmarks, he said yes.
“This question of symbolism is important,” Walz added.
The toppling of the statue comes amid more than two weeks of protests following the death of a black man, George Floyd, while in Minneapolis police custody. His death, after being pinned to the ground with an officer’s knee to the back of his neck for nearly nine minutes, sparked outrage over police brutality.
The Columbus statue was not the first to be brought down. The demonstrations following Floyd’s death have brought on a wave of statute removals. A Confederate statue in Alabama was pulled down Sunday, May 31. In Virginia, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. In Boston, another statue of Columbus was beheaded but otherwise left standing.