June 11, 2020 / 9:44 PM / 25 days ago

New York's Cuomo defends Columbus statues for symbolism to Italian Americans

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York should keep statues honoring Christopher Columbus even though the brutalization of the West Indies inhabitants he encountered on his voyages to the New World is inexcusable, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at LaGuardia Airport's new Terminal B, during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, New York, U.S., June 10, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Cuomo said Columbus was an important figure for Italian Americans, symbolizing their contribution to New York, and for that reason, he opposes removal of the statues.

With protesters attacking statues of Columbus in recent days during anti-racist demonstrations, Cuomo was asked by a reporter whether it was time for monuments in the state celebrating the Italian explorer to go.

Absolutely not, said Cuomo, an Italian-American.

“I understand the feelings about Christopher Columbus and some of his acts, which nobody would support,” Cuomo said at a briefing. “But the statue has come to represent and signify appreciation for the Italian-American contribution to New York.”

The anti-racist fervor that has followed a white police officer’s May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has renewed a campaign to remove monuments to the Confederacy and other symbols of the U.S. South’s legacy of slavery. Statues of Columbus have also come under attack in several cities.

Cuomo, the grandson of Italian immigrants and a regular at New York City’s Columbus Day parade, has been a consistent supporter of the statues against sporadic calls for their removal.

New York’s most well-known statue of Columbus soars above a Manhattan traffic circle that bears his name.

The statues were erected during a long period in which Columbus was hailed in the United States for opening the New World to European settlement.

On Wednesday, protesters pulled down a statue of Columbus in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and vandalized one in Miami, while on Tuesday, a monument to Columbus in Richmond, Virginia, was thrown into a lake. [nL1N2DO02Q]

In Miami, a statue of Columbus was vandalized on Wednesday evening, along with that of fellow explorer Ponce de Leon. [nL1N2DO1GW]

Reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Dan Grebler

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