For the second time in a month, a statue of Christopher Columbus in Providence has been vandalized – and now, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung has joined his counterpart in Johnston in broaching the idea of the statue being moved to one of the capital city’s neighboring communities.
“We’ve got a safe spot for it in Cranston,” Fung told WPRO’s Tara Granahan on Monday. “I know [Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena] would love to have it in his town, as well.”
The statue, which sits at the intersection of Elmwood and Reservoir avenues, was first vandalized with red paint and the words “stop celebrating genocide” on Columbus Day. On Monday morning, red paint was again found splashed on the statue.
The incidents have spurred debate over the legacy of Columbus – and whether the vandalism constitutes an act of civil disobedience or a criminal action.
Two members of the Providence City Council, Kat Kerwin and Rachel Miller, have defended the actions of those who put the paint on the statue. On Twitter, Kerwin wrote that “celebrating Columbus is celebrating colonization.” Providence has since created a committee to review the memorials within the city.
Polisena subsequently told the Johnston Sun Rise that he viewed the anti-Columbus stance as reflecting an “inherent hatred of Italo-Americans.” He also broached the idea of a boycott of Providence in protest of the vandalism and the councilwomen’s responses.
“I guess I started a firestorm because I said maybe Italo-Americans throughout the state should boycott the Providence restaurants and the shows and the malls,” he said. “If it was a fringe group, it’d be no issue, but there are two elected officials that condone destroying public property.”
Polisena said his town would welcome the opportunity to serve as a new home for the Columbus statue.
Following Monday’s vandalism incident, Fung wrote on Twitter: “I’m going to have to arm wrestle Mayor Polisena for it, but Cranston has a safe spot for the statue in Knightsville.”
Fung told Granahan the tweet was made largely “in jest,” and that he, Polisena and North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi had discussed the statue during their recent joint appearance on the Rhode Island PBS program “A Lively Experience.”
Fung stood by his willingness to bring the statue to Cranston, however – and said he, like Polisena, views the incidents as criminal.
“It’s absolutely getting out of hand in Providence … Vandalism, that’s what it is. Vandalism,” he said.
He added: “It’s outrageous that in this day and age, there’s the lack of respect and civility and tolerance for the other side of what’s going on. I get that you want to make a point about Columbus. It’s a point that I don’t necessarily agree with. But defacing public property is not the way to go about it. That’s criminal.”
Fung said the statue would “fit in appropriately” in Knightsville, a section of the city steeped in Italian-American ancestry and culture. He described Knightsville as “our own little Federal Hill.”