City work crews removed a statue of Christopher Columbus from its site near Coit Tower early Thursday. June 18, 2020. (Courtesy photo)

Christopher Columbus statue removed from Coit Tower site

A city work crew removed a statue of Christopher Columbus near Coit Tower early Thursday morning.

The statue of the controversial explorer, who is known to have committed atrocities on indigenous peoples, has been vandalized repeatedly in recent years, and is the subject of more than one circulating petition calling for its removal.

The statue was removed at the direction of Mayor London Breed after a protest flyer circulated calling for the removal of the statue at an action on Friday, according to Arts Commission spokeswoman Rachelle Axel. The two-ton statue was thought to pose a safety risk.

The statue, which has been targeted for vandalism three times in the last week alone, is currently in storage.

“At this important time in our country, we are all examining the ways in which institutional and structural racism permeate our society,” the Arts Commission said in a statement. “Public art is no exception. In cities across the U.S., many historic monuments are being taken down because the actions and ideas symbolized do not deserve to be venerated. Representation matters. That’s why we can, and should, continue to create artwork that reflects our values, and the diverse communities we serve.”

Recreation and Parks Director Phil Ginsburg issued a statement saying statues of Columbus “have become upsetting symbols of oppression and racism in cities across the country.”

“Such symbolism is at odds with SF Rec and Park’s values of equity, access and inclusion and our prioritization of parks and open space for marginalized communities,” Ginsburg said. “Coit Tower is an emblem of the San Francisco skyline, beloved by visitors for its panoramic views. Racism has no place in that view, or in ours.”

Statues of Columbus have come under renewed scrutiny across the country in the midst of ongoing protests about police brutality and racism, and are part of a broader ongoing reevaluation of the country’s past that includes the removal of many Confederate monuments.

California lawmakers on Tuesday also announced the removal of a Columbus statue from the state Capitol in Sacramento.

The Columbus statue is not the first piece of the past in San Francisco to be targeted for removal. In September 2018, San Francisco also removed the “Early Days” statue near City Hall over concerns about the monument depicting a submissive Native American lying beneath a missionary and a vaquero.

The City has also renamed streets and parks associated with racist public figures, and the school board has engaged in a heated debate with the public over a proposal to remove a mural at George Washington High School.

The Board of Supervisors voted in 2018 to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.

Nicholas Chan contributed to this report.

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