Petition to remove Torrington Christopher Columbus statue countered by opposing group

An online petition is calling for the removal of Torrington’s Columbus monument and to rename Columbus Square.

TORRINGTON — A petition to remove Torrington’s statue of Christopher Columbus started by the New England Peace Center and resident Michael Kaneb has gained more than 900 signatures since it was filed Saturday.

A petition countering Kaneb’s then was filed Sunday by Caitlin Ivain of Winsted, and to date has more than 1,000 signatures.

Kaneb, who with his wife Chelsea owns the Hummingbird Cafe on Main Street, said removing the Columbus statue is a way to “show our extended human family that we acknowledge the immense, needless suffering caused by the horrific injustices perpetrated through European colonization, and that we are resolved to take action to fix what is broken in this country.”

The statue was erected in 1980 at Columbus Square, just off East Main Street. The statue and park are part of the city’s annual Italian Mayor of the Day celebration, which is held on Columbus Day. In 2019, the celebration honored longtime resident Albert Persechino.

But Kaneb said there are other ways to honor Italian Americans.

“Italian Americans have made immense contributions to the city of Torrington,” he said. “The legacy of Columbus does not reflect their benevolent and hard working spirit.”

Ivain, however, wrote, “Save statues and preserve history for future generations. This statue was dedicated by local Italian American Organizations.”

“It has been prominently displayed for decades and it is a piece of Torrington’s history,” Ivain wrote. “While some are calling for its removal in response to recent events in the United States, the removal of such a historical monument is not an appropriate response.”

Kaneb said he has not received any response from city officials on removing the statue. “At the moment (we) are trying to figure out the respectful and purposeful next step,” he said.

The city of Middletown removed its Columbus statue June 14, according to a story in the Middletown Press. Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim said the statue, which was donated in the 1990s by several groups of local mostly Italian-American families, was slated for a temporary move. He also said residents had asked that it be removed. There also is a move on in New Haven to remove the Columbus statue from Wooster Square in that city.

“I have received a large number of calls, emails, and texts in recent days from residents pointing out that statues of Columbus are being taken down in other places across the state and country, either temporarily or permanently, and that they would like to see Middletown do the same,” he said, in a statement on that city’s Facebook. “ Many of the other statues were removed after being vandalized, which has not happened in Middletown in recent weeks, but has happened several times in the last few years.”

For the last few years, statues honoring Confederate soldiers also have been taken down in states across the country. On June 11, CNN reported on June 11 that Columbus statues were being vandalized. “(S)tatues of Christopher Columbus, another controversial figure in US history, are also being taken down. There have been three reports of Christopher Columbus statues being tampered with — one thrown into a lake, one beheaded, and another pulled to the ground.”

“Columbus has long been a contentious figure in history for his treatment of the Indigenous communities he encountered and for his role in the violent colonization at their expense,” according to CNN. “In recent years, many cities and states have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, in recognition of the pain and terror caused by Columbus and other European explorers.”

Kaneb said the statue doesn’t pay proper tribute to Italian Americans.

“Most of us wouldn’t say that absolutely nothing beneficial came from European colonization,” Kaneb said. “It would be erroneous to assert that there is nothing beautiful about European cultures, or their co-evolution with other cultures through history.”

“Yet despite whatever good can be said to have come from European colonization, there are many elements of this history we must condemn as morally reprehensible: violent conquests, genocides, ethnocides, slavery, brutality, systemic racism, and cruel imperialism,” Kaneb said.

“By removing statues and memorials to Christopher Columbus we are not erasing our history. We are facing our history and embracing our history. This is a vital phase in our evolution as Americans,” Kaneb said. “Through symbolic actions, we can show our extended human family that we acknowledge the immense, needless suffering caused by the horrific injustices perpetrated through European colonization, and that we are resolved to take action to fix what is broken in this country.”

Connecticut Media Group