By Kevin Deutsch and Sasha Gonzales
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A group of demonstrators calling for removal of the last Christoper Columbus statue in the Bronx was met Saturday by a crowd of angry counterprotesters, who shouted threats and chanted racist slogans, witnesses said.
In the weeks since Bronx resident Felix Cepeda started a petition declaring the Belmont Columbus monument offensive and racist, tensions have been mounting between progressive activists and supporters of the explorer in this working-class neighborhood.
The petition says the statue in Belmont’s D’Auria-Murphy Triangle Park, steps from Little Italy, should be hauled away by the city, highlighting the lethal violence and slavery Columbus and his men routinely used to colonize indigenous lands.
At Saturday’s protest, the group of activists who organized the event “encountered a large group of aggressive counterprotesters chanting thinks like “#AllLivesMatter” and other more threatening, racist slogans,” said photojournalist Sophia Guida, who snapped pictures of the demonstrations. “Several of the original activists reported being personally threatened by these counter protesters, and at least one of the counter protesters had a baseball bat.”
The petition, which has garnered nearly 100 signatures, calls for the statue to be officially removed amid a national reckoning with anti-Black racism.
“For many Indigenous and Black people Columbus only represents oppression,” wrote Cepeda, referring to the lethal violence and slavery Columbus and his men routinely used to colonize indigenous lands.
Similar statues have been removed in cities and towns across the country, many of them by residents who brought the monuments down by force.