Richard Tristano: Topple racism, not statues

Richard Tristano: Topple racism, not statues

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On June 12, the Daily News ran a photo of Gabriel Black Elk with his knee on the neck of the Capitol’s toppled Columbus statue protesting police brutality against Native Americans.

I found his emulation of the actions of Derek Chauvin on George Floyd disturbing and I could find no credible connection between Columbus and current police criminal behavior.

But I did find evidence of aggression against members of our country. Early in the last century, Italian immigrants were systematically discriminated against, sometimes based on race because they were considered non-white.

Many statues of Columbus were erected after the declaration of Columbus Day as a national holiday by President Benjamin Harrison in 1892. This was a response to the lynching of 11 Italian immigrants by a New Orleans mob, an act notably linked to white supremacy.

Now statues of George Washington and U. S. Grant have been toppled. It is true that both were slave owners. It is also true that both freed their slaves and that Grant was singularly responsible for the defeat of the slave-owning Confederacy and as president a driving force for Reconstruction that sought to secure civil rights for freed slaves.

People are now attacking statues ignorant of these and many other facts. Statues are public commemorations of people who did notable things, almost always they coexist with things we might rightfully condemn.

But who would challenge the importance of Washington in the fullness of our history? Statues also celebrate stories. We live in a diverse country with many stories. Who among us has the wisdom and the right to obliterate our stories, especially out of ignorance?

Acts of violence, even those perpetrated against lifeless statues without due consideration, are wrong and divisive.

I would argue that images of Confederate leaders merit removal more for their treason against the United States of America than for their slave ownership, which was after all legally protected.

Instead of attacking lumps of stone and bronze, it is that fact of legal protection and its baneful effect of racism still with us today that truly deserves to be toppled.

Richard Tristano, Winona


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