A court in Pennsylvania ruled Friday that the city of Philadelphia must uncover a statue of Christopher Columbus.
The Christopher Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza in South Philadelphia had been enclosed in a plywood box after it was at the center of protests in 2020. But the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled Friday that the box must be taken off, affirming a ruling by the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. Instead, the court authorized the construction of a clear structure around the statue.
“As a proud Citizen of Philadelphia, I am delighted that both Judge Patrick of the Court of Common Pleas and the Judges of the Commonwealth Court have boldly reaffirmed that the rule of law still matters,” George Bochetto, lawyer for the group Friends of Marconi Plaza, said in a statement Friday, via NBC 10. “That we are not a society ruled by cancel culture mobs. That all ethnic groups can proudly protect and honor their diverse heritages.”
Friends of Marconi Plaza, a neighborhood organization recognized by the city as the official private caretakers of the park, sued in 2021 to stop city officials from removing the statue after the Philadelphia Historical and Art Commissions both voted to have it removed in the wake of the 2020 riots, and the city’s Licensing and Inspection Review Board sided with the city and moved forward with taking the statue down.
The Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County ruled in favor of Friends of Marconi Plaza in 2021, halting the removal of the statue.
The Commonwealth Court upheld the lower court’s ruling. In a separate order shared by Fox 29 News reporter Steve Keeley, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision in part, directing the city to remove the plywood enclosure; however, it also reversed the decision in part, authorizing the construction of a clear structure around the statue.
“The order is affirmed insofar as it directs the City of Philadelphia to remove the plywood structure covering the Christopher Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza” @FOX29philly pic.twitter.com/p5XoIfdVUZ
— Steve Keeley (@KeeleyFox29) December 9, 2022
A spokesperson for Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said the city was “very disappointed in the Court’s ruling,” but would comply with the court’s ruling, including unboxing the statue. “While we will respect this decision, we will also continue to explore our options for a way forward that allows Philadelphians to celebrate their heritage and culture while respecting the histories and circumstances of everyone’s different backgrounds,” the spokesman said.
The statue, first erected in 1876 and moved in 1976, was targeted by protesters in the summer of 2020 in the midst of riots over the death of George Floyd, which included tearing down statues of historical figures around the country. But South Philadelphia residents, mainly Italian-Americans, showed up to the park to guard the statue from protesters.
Viral videos from the time showed the neighbors guarding the statue, armed with bats and other weapons. Kenney responded to the protests by covering the statue with the plywood box. He also tried to have the statue taken down.
“Like many communities across the country, Philadelphia is in the midst of a much-needed reckoning about the legacy of systemic racism and oppression in this country and around the world,” he said at the time. “Part of that reckoning requires reexamining what historical figures deserve to be commemorated in our public spaces. In recent weeks, clashes between individuals who support the statue of Christopher Columbus in Marconi Plaza and those who are distressed by its existence have deteriorated—creating a concerning public safety situation that cannot be allowed to continue.”
In October, City Councilman Mark Squilla, whose district borders the park, requested that the box be painted with the colors of the Italian flag ahead of Columbus Day, Fox 29 reported.