Monuments to Christopher Columbus on city parkland remain under constant NYPD protection and behind barricades — 10 months after nationwide protests against police brutality ignited a renewed reckoning over historic symbols of oppression.
While statues of the Italian explorer have been defaced or come down in several cities across the country, the five monuments in Columbus Circle and in Central Park in Manhattan, along with ones in Downtown Brooklyn, The Bronx and Queens, are shielded by the constant presence of police vehicles or barricades.
“I definitely find it odd and I find it wasteful,” said Eleanor Carey, 41, of Manhattan, as she walked by the barricaded bronze sculpture of Columbus in Central Park on Wednesday morning. “My daughter asks me all the time, ‘The police is still there?’”
The NYPD declined to answer how much the effort to safeguard the monuments has cost since protests broke out last spring in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd and other publicized incidents of brutality.
An NYPD spokesperson said only that police coverage at each location “is evaluated on an ongoing basis.”
The City Council, the city comptroller’s office and the Independent Budget Office were also unable to provide specifics on the costs of turning the mariner monuments into permanent NYPD outposts.
“New Yorkers should know how their tax dollars are being used,” said Doug Turetsky, a spokesperson for the Independent Budget Office.
The monuments drew attention last year as protests led to dozens of statues of the explorer being removed or targeted during protests nationally, including the beheading of a Boston statue, one tossed into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and another torn down and set on fire in Richmond, Va.
But the NYPD also did not respond to questions from THE CITY about whether specific threats have been made against the New York landmarks, which include the barricaded 76-foot-tall monument that towers over Columbus Circle and a marble bust of the explorer inside the locked D’Auria-Murphy Triangle in Belmont’s Little Italy in The Bronx.
‘Shows Where the Priorities Are’
“It upsets me to see these monuments locked up,” said Jeremy Wilcox, 41, who prior to the pandemic would lead tour groups past the Columbus statue in Central Park. “You want to paint this narrative that New York is safe and it’s open, but when people see police protecting statues, they might say, ‘How safe can the city be?’”
Wilcox, who lives in Flatbush, Brooklyn, has tweeted several times since last summer about what he calls the “eyesore” police presence at the monuments in Columbus Circle and Central Park.
At Columbus Circle, the entire monument is ringed by metal barricades, with an NYPD vehicle stationed nearby. In Central Park, the bronze sculpture that has been at the south end of The Mall since 1894 is surrounded by barricades.
“We’re cutting off access to public space,” Wilcox said. “And it’s just another example of no one being willing to tell the NYPD, ‘No, you guys gotta get out of here.’”
In 2017, the Central Park statue was stained with red paint and its granite base tagged with the message, “Hate will not be tolerated.”
Meanwhile, Republican City Councilmember Joe Borelli of Staten Island told THE CITY that he believes the monuments need to remain under police watch.
“Protecting public monuments and art is part of the NYPD’s mission,” Borelli said. “As long as there are psychotic leftists who want to make amends for a 400-year-old historical squabble by destroying a monument, then we have to protect them.”
On Thursday, the D’Auria-Murphy Triangle in The Bronx remained locked while an NYPD van was parked outside the park. Next to Brooklyn Borough Hall, there were police near a barricaded Columbus statue in the park that bears his name. In Astoria, Queens, there were no barricades around the seven-foot-tall bronze statue of Columbus, though a NYPD vehicle was parked next to Columbus Square.
Felix Cepeda, a Bronx man who has petitioned to have the Columbus bust removed from D’Auria-Murphy Triangle, said he has been going weekly to check out the police presence at different monuments around the city.
“I think it just shows where the priorities are in this city,” Cepeda said. “It is crazy that the city has money for this, paying so many cops to protect these statues, when there are so many needs in our communities.”