A MONUMENT TO WASTE: The NYPD Has Two Cops Protecting a Columbus Statue 24 Hours a Day, 7 Days a Week
His place in history is tarnished, but his place in Astoria appears secure for now.
The 114th Precinct in Astoria, Queens, has deployed a pair of officers — 24 hours a day, seven days a week — to guard a statue of Christopher Columbus in a small park, a strategy that raises questions about how the NYPD spends its money in an era when many are calling for massive cuts.
“It’s a waste of money,” said a long-time Astoria resident named John, as he sat on a stoop near the statue at 31st Street and Astoria Boulevard, which is ringed by police barricades and protected by the two 114th Precinct patrol officers in a police van.
An officer at the station house a block away from the statue told Streetsblog that police brass believe the monument, created by Angelo Racioppi, may be vandalized as part of the national movement to draw attention to shrines honoring racists, slave-owners, Confederates, white supremacists or those who committed ethnic cleansing in the name of building our nation. And it wouldn’t be the first time: after the infamous alt-right rally in Charlottesville in 2017, the Astoria statue was vandalized with the phrase, “Don’t Honor Genocide.”
And last month, protesters demanded the removal of the statue, which honors the Genoese explorer whose place in history has become increasingly tarnished by more enlightened interpretation of his atrocities.
114th precinct put up barricades around the Columbus statue on Astoria Blvd— and has also stationed a car there around the clock pic.twitter.com/pRxLklWrtb
— Catherina Gioino (@CatGioino) July 2, 2020
The statue no doubt has its supporters — every year on Columbus Day, the Federation of Italian-American Organizations of Queens lays a wreath next to it to commemorate Italian-American war veterans — but visitors are uncertain if it requires such round-the-clock protection.
“It’s fucked up that they’re paying these guys overtime just to chill out,” said one man, who gave the name Mike.
An Astoria resident named Angel concurred, noting that neighborhood residents weren’t “hyperconscious” of the statue, and that he barely noticed the statue until the police started protecting it. More broadly, it seems that the extensive police presence may be disproportionate compared to the low risk of the statue being threatened.
The statue at Columbus Triangle was commissioned by Astoria’s Italian-American community just before World War II, though the park was named after Columbus in 1930, according to the Parks Department. The statue continues to have significance to the Italian-American community, but Columbus’s legacy has been re-evaluated in recent years because of his colonialism and genocide — and not just by historians.
“We need to reconsider the deification of Columbus,” said an Astoria resident who gave only the name Justin.
Local governments across the country have begun a dialogue about removing problematic statues, such as the depiction of Teddy Roosevelt in front of the American Museum of Natural History that features the president, a known white supremacist, riding horseback next to subordinate depictions of a Native American man and an African man. Elsewhere in the country, protesters have taken direct action against statues, such as a statue of Columbus that was recently tossed into Baltimore Harbor.
There are also nationwide discussions about re-imagining funding for local police departments — not only have thousands of people signed a petition to defund the NYPD, the City Council demanded that Mayor de Blasio cut $1 billion from the department’s funding (though the final cuts were significantly lower). NYPD overtime itself costs city taxpayers $700 million per year.
In light of these discussions, the decision to pay two officers to sit in front of a statue all day seems puzzling, and leads to questions about NYPD priorities.
It’s also clear that some people see such questions as a threat to their own interpretation of history. One Astoria resident, who identified himself as a retired cop, was adamant that the officers were doing the right thing.
“Liberals are running mad,” he said, before growing enraged and threatening to punch this reporter. He did however give the reporter his name: “My name?” he asked. “Trump.”