Calls to remove controversial statues moves to San Jose, San Francisco

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Christopher Columbus statue in San Jose City Hall.

Liberals want to remove Confederate statues across the country.

A group wants to remove the Pioneer Memorial in San Francisco, depicting a missionary standing over a Native American.

And Latino activists want to remove the statue of Christopher Columbus from San Jose City Hall.

“This statue, at least to my community, is seen as a symbol of white supremacy,” Brown Berets co-chair and labor organizer Peter Ortiz told KTVU on Tuesday.

The Brown Berets launched a formal petition last week, stating “this statue is obscene and offensive to the native community whose ancestry has suffered years of oppression, rape, and genocide at the hands of the figure that now stands at our city hall. We demand that the statue be relocated to a placement that better suits the community.”

The statue was donated to San Jose in 1958 by the Italian-American community. It was displayed in the old City Hall for decades before being moved to the new building in 2006.
Columbus was the first European explorer to introduce Europe to the Americas. But he also harshly treated and enslaved indigenous people.

San Jose Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio, who is of Italian descent, told KTVU on Tuesday that “if you open up a Pandora’s Box….and talk about one statue you probably need to look at everything else.” He meant that every piece of public art would have to be scrutinized for controversies.

The battle over statues is reaching a boiling point in the United States, when on Aug. 12, a riot broke out and a woman was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia, when neo-Nazis and others took to the streets to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Since that historic event, at least two dozen Confederate statues – that pay tribute to slavery -  have been removed around the country from Durham, North Carolina to Houston.

President Donald Trump weighed in on the statue debate, saying: "This week it's Robert E. Lee, and this week, Stonewall Jackson. Is it George Washington next?" Trump asked, noting the country's first president had owned slaves. "You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?"

And just this week, a group on Facebook demanded the removal of the Pioneer Monument near the main San Francisco Library and the Asian Art Museum. Part of it, titled "Early Days," depicts a Spanish cowboy and a missionary standing over a fallen Native American.

Louie Hammonds, who said he has Native American ancestry, told KTVU on Tuesday that he is personally not offended by the statue.

But San Francisco Board Supervisor Jane Kim said that she agrees that the statue is depicting the genocide
of members of our community it does make people feel like they are not a respected part of San Francisco.”

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier told KTVU that she believes these statues tell a story about America and belong in museums “where you can actually talk about the history.”

KTVU's Tara Moriarty contributed to this report.