‘This will no doubt end racism’: Activists tear down ‘offensive’ monument on Columbus Day, but gesture draws heat online

A 150-year-old Confederate monument was torn down in Santa Fe, New Mexico on Columbus Day. However, reaction both online and from city authorities indicates the situation doesn’t quite mirror cities elsewhere in the US.

The contentious monument was torn down by a group of around 40 activists in 20 minutes or so following three days of protests around the federal holiday. Columbus Day has long been a source of controversy in the US, with many arguing that celebrating the explorer glorifies colonialism. Some states, including New Mexico, have ditched the holiday, observing Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead.

Police were reportedly absent at the time the monument was torn down, having conducted a tactical retreat after officers were assaulted, before returning in greater numbers with reinforcements from New Mexico State Police and the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office. 

Two men were arrested in connection with the toppling of the monument: Sean Sunderland, 24, was charged with resisting and criminal trespass while Dylan Wrobel, 27, charged with battery on a peace officer and resisting an officer.

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Mayor Alan Webber decried the actions of the protesters, saying the “wanton destruction of the Obelisk was completely unacceptable. That’s not how we do things in Santa Fe.”

“There is no place for people taking the law into their own hands. There is no place for people destroying historic monuments on their own,” Webber added.

Reaction online was mixed between supporters of the movement to rectify historical injustice and stop lauding historical oppressors, and those who see such actions as utterly futile.

City workers had erected barriers around the monument, erected in 1866 to honor Civil War-era soldiers, to protect it, but protesters still managed to lasso it with a rope and tear it down.

Webber had previously ordered the obelisk removed but it was too heavy, so only the offending plaque which bore an inscription referencing the Pueblo people as ‘Savage Indians’, was taken away. 

The incident is the latest such removal of statues from bygone eras seen by social justice movements as oppressive. Numerous statues of slave owners and conquerors have been torn down across the world in recent months amid the groundswell of racial justice marches which began in the US with the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May.

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© Getty Images North American via AFP / Nathan Howard
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