Groups of competing protesters converge on the statue of Christopher Columbus in NJ city

A group of protesters clashed on Friday night over whether or not a statue of Christopher Columbus in Nutley should be removed.

The competing petitions were recently created with one calling for the statue to be removed, a bust of the famous Italian explorer located on Chestnut Street and Kennedy Drive in Nutley and for the name of the Nutley / Belleville Columbus Day Parade to be renamed, and the other to request the opposite.

Catherine Pezo, one of the organizers of Nutley for Black Lives, said she did not write the online petition to remove it, but that she supported the “legal removal of the statue.”

“The statue is where the police station and the town hall are,” said Pezo.

“There is a blatant denial of racism in this city by many leaders. We are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement nationally and globally. “

Police moved the barriers in front of the Columbus statue to separate the two groups of protesters as they exchanged chants of “the lives of blacks matter” and “all lives matter.”

The Black Lives group was made up of a group of about 50 people, with the pro-Colon ranges a bit smaller.

“I understand that they want riots, but we are here to protect the history of the United States,” said Lisa Mandericho, who has lived in the city since 1986. “I understand that it is ugly, but not the whole story is ugly.” If you remove it, there is no reminder of what needs to be fixed. ”

She added: “Don’t get me wrong, Columbus came here. Was he the best person? Not.”

ALSO: Protesters demand removal of Christopher Columbus statue from Trenton

“Columbus changed the world. And he did it in a wooden boat, so he was alone against everyone else. And I think it should be respected and honored, “said Joseph Gencarelli, member of the committee for the Belleville-Nutley Columbus Day parade and former president of Belleville UNICO, an Italian-American organization.

He said that the police asked Nutley UNICO and members of the parade committee not to come and that they would handle any alleged threats of vandalism.

The Nutley for Black Lives group said it had no intention of destroying the statue or damaging property and describes itself as a “small local organization” that supports the Black Lives Matter movement.

A group of counter-protesters guard a statue of Christopher Columbus in Nutley.Rebecca Panico | NJ Advance Media for

Columbus has been increasingly criticized for killing, enslaving, and transmitting disease to the indigenous peoples of North America.

Columbus, an Italian who sailed under the Spanish flag, has long been honored for being the first European to arrive in America, when he landed in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492. But Columbus’s arrival in the Americas set the stage. for subsequent colonization. of the two continents, and the genocide of the indigenous peoples that it entailed.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka announced on Friday that a statue of Christopher Columbus was removed Thursday night from Washington Park and will remain in storage until the city decides what to do with it.

“The removal of this statue should not be perceived as an insult to the Italian-American community,” said the mayor. “It is a statement against the barbarism, slavery and oppression that this explorer represents.”

There was a rally in Trenton on Thursday to remove a similar statue, and Camden already removed one earlier this month.

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Rebecca Panico can be contacted at [email protected].

Josh Axelrod can be contacted at [email protected].

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