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360: Monuments shake politics, across the country and right here in Wisconsin

Posted at 1:51 PM, Aug 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-14 15:26:49-04

MILWAUKEE — Monuments have become targets and statues have been beheaded, vandalized and toppled from coast to coast and right here in Wisconsin.

Many monuments and statues are now boxed up or covered. Some cities are proactively removing statues of racially charged figures who owned slaves or rose to fame while neglecting to fight for the equality of all people.

To fully understand what's behind this "monument movement" we are going 360. TMJ4's Ryan Jenkins speaks to an alderman who stood alone in voting against the removal of a Christopher Columbus statue in Columbus, Wisconsin, to a local lawmaker pushing to protect statues on public property, to a national organization that calls the removal of monuments offensive and an "attack" on our history, and to the executive director of the Wisconsin Black Historical Society, who says the celebration of historical figures with racist pasts must come to an end. That's where we'll start.

"We're often faced with the challenge that there are people who have done accomplished and great things, and monuments are put up and yet their lives have been dirty with these demeaning kinds of racist behavior and context," said Clayborn Benson, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Black Historical Society.

Benson says monuments of any person who owned slaves or who did not fight for the equality of all people should be taken down.

"In the grayness of these statues, we see: Making African-Americans less than human, continuing their enslavement, making people in general, today, feel that they're not equal," said Benson.

In some cities Public monuments have been destroyed and vandalized. When asked if it's acceptable to bring down monument's without due process, Benson said, "Yes, They need to come down and if the legislature body moves to slow then they need to come down."

State Representative Rob Hutton sees things differently. He co-authored a bill that protects statues and monuments on public property in Wisconsin. The bill stiffens penalties for anyone who defaces or destroys one.

"There is the need for law and order in our communities around property," said Rep. Hutton.

The proposed bill comes after protesters in Madison, Wisconsin dragged down a statue of Colonel Hans Christian Heg, a man from Racine County who once fought to abolish slavery. It's still unclear why protesters tore down Heg's statue and Rep. Hutton says without important conversations, he's not sure progress can be made by such actions.

"Is the removing of this monument actually address the actual concern that's there? Or is it a scapegoat or convenient process for which we all feel good at the time but doesn't really improve or address the situation long term," said Hutton.

In Columbus Wisconsin, city leaders voted to remove a monument of the city's namesake, Christopher Columbus. Alderman Paul Pyfferoen was the only alderman who voted against that removal.

"I have a friend who is Native American and she hated the statue coming to town everyday and seeing it. At the same time, people are saying that if we get rid of it that its erasing history or falsifying the past," said Pyfferoen.

He told TMJ4 News he was never against the idea of removing the statue, but he did want more public debate and possibly even a referendum placed on the November ballot to ensure the council was making the right decision in removing the controversial statue.

"A statue of Christopher Columbus being taken off its base and being put into a (Department of Public Works) storage lot is not to automatically say 'OK Christopher Columbus was no longer a bad person. Now, everything's good!' It doesn't do that," said Pyfferoen.

In Chicago, there was no vote when Mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered several statues of Christopher Columbus to be removed after violent protests left police injured.

The Executive Director of the Italian One Voice Coalition, Andre DiMino, says removing the statues is offensive to the Italian-American community.

"Columbus is an important symbol to Italian Americans and Italian Americans are a recognized group under the 14th Amendment. So, taking away a symbol that an ethnicity feels is so important to them is really an insult to all Italian Americans."

DiMino also said Christopher Columbus is completely false and went on to call the attack on American statues an attack on American history.

"If were going to attack these statues where does it end? Where does this attack on our history end," he said.

Meanwhile, as the conversation pertaining to the monument movement continues, President Trump has ordered the creation of a National Garden of American Heroes, he says to tell our "great national story."

It's been reported that the garden would feature statues of people like our nation's founding fathers, civil rights activists, as well as people like Christopher Columbus and even World War Two general Douglas MacArthur, who has a statue that stands tall at Milwaukee's Veteran's Park.

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