- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 15, 2002

U.S. Park Police arrested two men who tried to disrupt the annual Columbus Day ceremony in front of the Christopher Columbus Memorial statue at Union Station in Northeast yesterday.
Police said they are still investigating whether the two were responsible for vandalizing the statue late Sunday night. Several globs of red paint remained splattered on the statue yesterday and the slogan "510 years oppression, 510 years resistance" was spray-painted across the marble base at Columbus' feet.
Controversy at Columbus Day events across the country has been brewing for decades. In Denver, 150 persons were arrested in 2000 when the conflict between pro-American Indian groups and pro-Columbus groups exploded during a parade. The Denver parade had been canceled throughout most of the 1990s because of tensions between the two groups.
Yesterday's ceremony in Washington marked the 90th consecutive Columbus Day gathering in front of Union Station since the Columbus statue was erected there in 1912.
Ceremony organizers said the protesters and the vandalism are the worst expressions of anti-Columbus sentiment in Washington since 1991 when pro-American Indian demonstrators poured red paint symbolizing blood over the statue.
"It seems like the only way they make their statements is to disrupt or physically destroy and deface something. I don't think it's appropriate," said David R. Curfman, president of the National Columbus Celebration Association.
But Mr. Curfman, and others among the more than 100 people who gathered at the statue yesterday, said the disruptions did little to steal the spirit from the commemorative festivities.
"We didn't let it dishearten us in any way," said James Raywalt, who was dressed in a black cape, playing the role of Christopher Columbus in the ceremony. "A number of people applauded when [one of the protesters] was dragged away by the police."
Mr. Raywalt said he was trying to put the protest into the perspective of what he feels is the spirit of the Columbus Day ceremony.
"One of the principles upon which this nation was founded was the liberty of free speech," he said. "Even in circumstances like this, if we don't recognize that liberty, then we cease to live up to a key principle of the nation's foundation."
The ceremony included a performance by the U.S. Marine Band and appearances of the U.S. Military Honor Guard and the Knights of Columbus Color Corps.
About 100 people joined in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance before dozens of memorial wreaths were placed in front of the statue by area civic and cultural organizations with the National Columbus Celebration Association.
"I come to this ceremony to be patriotic and to support the founders of our country," said David White, a resident of the District and member of the Sons of the American Revolution.
"Christopher Columbus discovered America. He's the earliest historical figure I can think of who was involved in the founding of America."
Mr. White said the red paint splattered on the statue was a shame. "I don't think vandalism of any kind is appropriate," he said.
U.S. Park Police did not release the names of the two male protesters. Observers said one of the men appeared to be an American Indian and a police source said that man may have come from an Indian reservation in South Dakota.
The pair appeared at the edge of the crowd at different times.
One marched with a sign reading "Columbus was a murderer." He walked toward the middle of the ceremony and sat on the ground.
About 15 minutes later, the other protester began shouting anti-Columbus slogans as he walked to the center of the crowd. Neither man resisted when park police officers surrounded and handcuffed them.
U.S. Park Police Capt. Richard Murphy said the two likely will be charged with disorderly conduct.


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