- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 12, 2020

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A Philadelphia arts panel has cleared the way for the city to remove a 144-year-old statue of Christopher Columbus from a south Philadelphia park after the explorer became a focus of protesters amid nationwide demonstrations against racial injustice in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.

The Philadelphia Art Commission voted 8-0 Wednesday, with one member abstaining, to place the now-boarded-up statue at Marconi Plaza in temporary storage and require a report every six months on efforts to find it a permanent home. The city’s historical commission had voted 10-2 late last week for removal of the statue.

The panel’s chair, Alan Greenberger, said the statue was “a serious piece of art” and a gift from the Italian government in the 1800s, and “as a matter of practicality it has to be put safely in storage,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

“It needs to be stored and protected so that something can be figured out,” he said. “The worst thing in my view that can happen, as many of you said, is that it stays in storage and is forgotten.”

City crews earlier built a wooden box around the statue following clashes between protesters and residents and the city later announced plans to seek its removal, something some south Philadelphia residents have sued to block.

In Philadelphia, a city with a deep Italian heritage, supporters said they considered Columbus an emblem of that heritage. Mayor Jim Kenney said Columbus was venerated for centuries as an explorer but had a “much more infamous” history, enslaving indigenous people and imposing punishments such as severing limbs or even death.

Statues of Columbus were earlier removed in nearby Camden, New Jersey, and Wilmington, Delaware. In Richmond, Virginia, a statue of Christopher Columbus was torn down, set on fire and thrown into a lake. In Columbia, South Carolina, the first U.S. city named for Columbus, a statue of the explorer was removed after it was vandalized several times, and a vandalized statue in Boston also was removed from its pedestal.

Floyd died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes even as he pleaded for air and stopped moving.

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