Protesters douse Columbus statue in red paint to decry ‘genocide’ in San Francisco

Someone doused a statue of Christopher Columbus with red paint in San Francisco on Saturday night ahead of a national holiday celebrating the controversial explorer, KRON reports.

Visitors to Telegraph Hill, home to historic Coit Tower, on Sunday found the message “destroy all monuments to genocide and kill all colonizers” painted around the defaced statue’s base, according to KGO.

San Francisco now marks Columbus Day as Indigenous People’s Day, and observed Italian Heritage Day on Sunday, the station reported.

“This is a shameful act of hatred and vandalism,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who represents the traditionally Italian American neighborhood of North Beach, according to The San Francisco Examiner. Peskin called it “the lowest form of behavior.”

Some of the hundreds of people who flocked to Telegraph Hill on Sunday to observe Fleet Week air shows or observe Italian Heritage Day agreed.

“I think it’s horrible,” said Jodi Silverman of Boston, KNTV reported. “I think that people, yes they have freedom of speech, but they shouldn’t deface property.”

“I mean, we’re here to celebrate our heritage, our beliefs, our background,” said Tiffany Lindsey, KPIX reported. “And that’s disgusting. I’m sorry, but that really offends me.”

But others said whoever defaced the statue might have a point.

“I think it’s a very symbolic action that makes sense given how controversial of a figure Columbus is,” said tourist Elly Oltersdorf, KGO reported. “To Native Americans he represents a lot of violence and the genocide towards their people.”

“Honestly, they don’t teach you in school, but Christopher Columbus did a bunch of stuff that wasn’t the greatest,” said visitor Travis Troxell of Santa Rosa, KNTV reported.

“I mean we all know he’s got blood on his hands,” said Gina Williams, KRON reported. “And I see he’s got blood on his hands.”

But Williams also called defacing the statue “unnecessary,” noting that taxpayers will wind up financing the cleanup. “People just don’t think,” she said, according to the station.

Organizers of the Italian Heritage Festival in North Beach on Sunday declined to comment on the vandalism, saying it did not dampen the spirit of the event, KPIX reported.

Police are examining security camera footage from around Coit Tower to try to identify the culprit, The San Francisco Examiner reported. Cleanup work on the statue began Sunday.

Erected by the Columbus Monument Committee in 1957, the 12-foot statue was intended in part to honor San Francisco’s Italian American community, since Columbus never visited the area or sailed the Pacific Ocean, SF Curbed reported.

A state of Columbus in Providence, Rhode Island, also was doused in red paint over the weekend, The Associated Press reported.

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Don Sweeney has been a newspaper reporter and editor in California for more than 25 years. He has been a real-time reporter based at The Sacramento Bee since 2016.