Timeline: Columbus statue torn down by protesters 90 minutes after vow to protect
The threat to the Christopher Columbus statue on the south lawn of the Minnesota State Capitol was no secret. It was posted on Facebook at about 11 a.m. Wednesday that protesters would tear the statue down at 5 p.m. It was so well known KSTP Reporter Tom Hauser asked Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington about it at 3:35 p.m.
"I've heard that through social media," Harrington responded. "[State Patrol] Col. Langer and his staff will be out there to meet with the groups to explain to them the process that is already in existence for if you want to have a statue or you want to have something removed from the Capitol grounds there is a lawful process for doing that and we will be out there to meet with them to have that conversation. If this is something that the community wants and the legislature agrees with and all the parties that have to part to that decision then there's a lawful process for that to happen but we plan to be out there to meet with them this afternoon."
Technically, Harrington said they would "meet" with the protesters, but it was implied the State Patrol would protect the statue and enforce laws against destruction of public property.
On Hauser's way back to KSTP-TV, he stopped by the Columbus statue to take pictures on his phone to use in future Twitter posts about what he was sure would become an ongoing controversy. They might be the last still pictures taken of the statue.
Just after 4:30 p.m., protesters began to show up and so did one Minnesota State trooper. Mike Forcia, a Native American leader of the protesters, told the trooper exactly what they planned to do.
"We'll be arrested, but we're going to hook him up and we're going to pull on him," Forcia said of the statue. "I'm disappointed that [Gov.] Tim [Walz] and [Lt. Gov.] Peggy [Flanagan] aren't out here," he said. Forcia told the trooper he had invited them.
Just after 5 p.m., while Hauser was about to go on the air reporting on the plans for a special session of the Minnesota Legislature later this week, the KSTP newsroom witnessed a live feed of the statue being torn down by protesters. After the protesters refused to accept a piece of paper with the steps necessary to legally have a statue removed, the trooper walked away and left the statue unprotected. Two protesters then climbed the statue with no State Patrol in sight and tore the statue down. Just a few minutes later, more than a dozen State Troopers emerged from the State Capitol and circled the pedestal that had held the statue of Christopher Columbus since 1931.
Gov. Tim Walz released the following statement Wednesday night:
"As a former social studies teacher, I taught my students that many Minnesotans look at that statue and see a legacy of genocide. Now more than ever, we must take a hard look at the dated symbols and injustices around us. The Minnesota Historical Society and the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board have a formal process to remove statues from the Capitol grounds, and it’s important that process is followed in order to ensure the safety of bystanders and the preservation of surrounding property. While that process was too long for those who were pained by the statue’s presence, that is not an excuse for them to take matters into their own hands and remove it in that fashion. Even in pain, we must work together to make change, lawfully. I encourage Minnesotans to have productive, peaceful conversations about the changes that need to be made to create a more inclusive state."
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan also issued a statement Wednesday night:
"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.
"The arrival of Christopher Columbus to what is now the Americas set in motion centuries of violence and genocide against the Indigenous people who already lived here. As the highest-ranking Native woman elected to executive office in the country, I have often reflected on the fact that I could see a statue honoring that legacy from my office window. It was a constant reminder that our systems were not built by or for Native people or people of color, but in many cases, to exclude, erase, and eliminate us. Tonight, I’m thinking of all the Native children who might now feel more welcome on the grounds and in the halls of their state government."
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