Protection Racket: Columbus Has Friends at 1 Police Plaza

Christopher Columbus is being guarded. Photo: Adam Light
Christopher Columbus is being guarded. Photo: Adam Light

This is not the kind of bust cops usually deal with.

One day after Streetsblog reported that there are cops stationed all day and all night in front of a statue of Christopher Columbus in Astoria, reporters learned that other monuments to the explorer and murderous colonizer are patrolled by New York’s Finest 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

We found cops on Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn, idling in a van near Emma Stebbins’s colossal marble monument, second only in grandeur/pomposity to the famous statue-and-plinth in the circle named after the Genovese explorer in Manhattan.

The statue is in the background, under the watchful eyes of the police officers in the van.
The statue is in the background, under the watchful eyes of the police officers in the van.

We also found cops on Crescent Street in the Belmont section of the park, idling in a van in front of D’Auria-Murphy Triangle and its Attilio Piccirilli bust (Piccirilli and his brothers also created the statues of Patience and Fortitude in front of the New York Public Library main branch, but neither lion has police protection).

Guarding the bust in The Bronx. Photo: Adam Light
Guarding the bust in The Bronx. Photo: Adam Light

Of course, there are also cops at the base of Gaetano Russo’s huge statue in Columbus Circle, plus extra barricades.

Protecting Columbus in Manhattan. Photo: Adam Light
Protecting Columbus in Manhattan. Photo: Adam Light

That’s a lot of police manpower to guard some monuments. And many people think it’s excessive.

“It’s a waste of money,” said a long-time Astoria resident who gave Streetsblog the name John, as he sat on a stoop near the Queens statue at 31st Street and Astoria Boulevard.

How Streetsblog covered the story.
How Streetsblog covered the story.

At the bust in Belmont, a man who gave the name Lois was incredulous.

“I don’t know why they’re there,” he said.

Streetsblog reached out to the NYPD with the following questions that were not answered:

  • Why is the NYPD doing this?
  • Have there been threats made to these statues? If so, in what form?
  • Does the NYPD believe these threats are credible?
  • How much is it costing to protect these statues in patrolmen’s or women’s time/overtime?

Streetsblog also reached out to City Hall to get the mayor’s perspective on this, but City Hall deferred to the NYPD.

One thing is certain: Columbus is under fire, nationally and locally, by activists who are no longer willing to accept the narrative of a Great White Man who “discovered” America. In fact, millions of people were living here already, the vast majority of whom would soon be dead from murder, enslavement and disease.

At the Columbus statue on Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn, one Parks Department sign was splashed in red paint and other was covered by stickers reading, “This is Canarsie land,” a reference to the Native American tribe that populated our region before the arrival of White settlers and the beginning of centuries of genocide.

Attacks on Columbus statues have been occurring around the country, most recently in Baltimore, where a statue was toppled and tossed into the harbor. Another Columbus statue was knocked down in St. Paul, Minn., and other statues were vandalized around the country.

After initial publication of this story, the Parks Department provided additional information. Defaced signs are repaired in house, so the agency refused to speculate on the cost of the vandalism.

The agency also said that two of the statues had been marked with graffiti. The one in Brooklyn was attacked in January, while the one inside Central Park was hit “a few months ago.”

The agency did not ask the NYPD to protect the statues.

Nine people have written to the agency to demand the statues be removed.

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