DENVER (Reuters) - About 75 protesters, including American Indian activist Russell Means, were arrested on Saturday after blocking Denver’s downtown parade honoring the Italian-born discoverer Christopher Columbus, an event they denounced as “a celebration of genocide.”
Police loaded protesters onto buses after they refused orders to disperse. Most will be charged with obstruction of a roadway or disrupting a lawful assembly, Denver Police Lt. Ron Saunier said.
Police delayed the parade’s start for more than an hour as they tried to head off confrontations.
American Indian groups and their supporters have disrupted the city’s annual Columbus Day parade every year for nearly two decades, leading to clashes with Colorado’s Italian-American community over the century-old celebration, the longest-running such commemoration in the United States.
Columbus Day, marked this year on October 8, is an official holiday for most U.S. federal government workers, many public schools, state and local agencies and the U.S. bond market. It recalls the October 12, 1492, landing of Columbus in the Americas on his search for a naval route to India, an event that spawned an era of European interest in the New World.
Means, talking to Reuters before his arrest, said Columbus was the “first trans-Atlantic slave trader” after landing in the Americas in 1492. He said Columbus started centuries of oppression of native peoples.
“By all accounts, Christopher Columbus was personally responsible for thousands of deaths of the original inhabitants of this hemisphere,” Means said.
Parade organizer George Vendegnia of the Sons of Italy said his group would honor Columbus’ legacy until the U.S. Congress changed the holiday’s name. Some cities including Berkeley, California, have already changed the name to “Indigenous People’s Day.”
“It’s a day for us to celebrate our heritage,” Vendegnia said.
Parade opponent Glenn Spagnuolo, an Italian-American, said Columbus’ legacy should not be celebrated.
“To honor someone who, by his own writings, was a slave trader, is immoral,” he said. “I don’t see any of my Italian culture in celebrating the occupation and destruction of native cultures.”