This story has been updated.

The Christopher Columbus statue in downtown San Antonio’s Columbus Park, which was vandalized on Thursday, was still spattered with red paint as about 40 protesters surrounded barricades around the monument Saturday afternoon.

Holding signs declaring “Columbus didn’t discover America, he invaded it” in blue and red marker and “Don’t Glorify Genocide,” protesters chanted for the removal of the statue as about 20 police officers and eight men holding guns looked on.

“We’re out here today to support our indigenous brothers and sisters and to ask this statue come down,” said Jourdyn Parks, a founder and leader of local Black Lives Matter coalition group Reliable Revolutionaries.

“We asked nicely, we’ve asked at Council, we’ve asked the mayor,” Parks said. “We’ve asked several people who have the power to see that statue comes down, and we feel ignored.”

Jourdyn Parks (left) breaks from a conversation with a militia group to chant during the protest. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

As an organizer representing the Texas Indigenous Council, Antonio Diaz said he and other Native American protesters were unified in wanting the statue removed.

“Columbus is the father of the trans-Atlantic slave trade,” Diaz said. “He was a pedophile who sold 10- to 12-year-old girls as sex slaves. Our kids need a proper education on who he actually was.”

The protest turned momentarily tense as a small group of protesters broke through the barricade around the statue, with the aim of protesting directly next to it.

Park Police pushed the protesters back with their bikes to get them back outside of the barricade. The nearby small group of men defending the statue cocked their weapons, and moved forward.

As leaders from the Reliable Revolutionaries called for protesters to remain peaceful, most began to calm down and back up. A small group of 10 protesters sat down within the barricade and were allowed to remain there.

Those defending the statue stayed near the barricade, getting into verbal altercations with several of the protesters, who called them antagonizers and white supremacists.

Steven Ruiz, one of the men defending the statue and a veteran, said he was there because he wants to prevent what happened at the Alamo.

“Someone’s debased the statue already,” Ruiz said. “We want to prevent any further damage to it.”

Protesters demanding the removal of the monument to Christopher Columbus at Columbus Park confront armed militiamen after breaching barricades erected by police. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Ruiz said he brought out his weapons because it’s within his Second Amendment right to do so. “Just as it’s within their First Amendment right to protest peacefully,” he said.

The San Antonio native said he doesn’t want to see San Antonio become the next Seattle or  Albuquerque, referring to riots that had taken place in both cities.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus addressed both groups just before 2 p.m. McManus asked everyone to stay peaceful and asked those in attendance what needs to happen to make sure that remains the case.

Diaz and members of the Reliable Revolutionaries asked the men with guns to leave.

The group agreed to leave only if protesters moved back behind the barricade and police managed the protesters. While both groups agreed to the compromise initially, all protesters later moved into the space directly in front of the statue. Those guarding the statue remained nearby.

San Antonio Brown Beret Oso began to lead the protesters in a chant directed at the group of men with guns.

“Peace in the park, Nazis get out,” the protesters yelled.

Near the statue, a small group of children ate popsicles and played tag, sitting under the shade of trees.

The focus of the protest turned around 2:30 p.m. toward chanting the names of police brutality victims. Directing their comments directly to the 20 nearby police officers, protesters asked why the police were more focused on them as they peacefully protested than the men with weapons watching nearby.

“I hope no one is getting burglarized right now!” one protester yelled. 

About half the protesters left around 3 p.m. to join another Black Lives Matter protest taking place at Lockwood Park.

This is Texas Freedom Force President Brandon Burkhart arrived just as the remaining protesters were leaving around 3:30 p.m. Burkhart said he’d been asked to come out by McManus to help deescalate the group of individuals with guns, a couple of whom are members of TITFF.

A militia group stands guard opposite side of Black Lives Matter protesters at Columbus Park near downtown San Antonio. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“We did not have a sanctioned event today,” Burkhart said, noting anyone present at the protest was acting on their own.

After hearing threats that protesters may cut the head off the monument, some men wanted to protect the statue, he said.

“You know where we stand on Texas history,” Burkhart said. “And we’re not going to put up with that kind of nonsense.”

Burkhart said his members respect everyone’s First Amendment rights and have nothing against peaceful protesting. It’s when it becomes no longer peaceful that TITFF members will get involved, he said.

Photo Editor Scott Ball contributed to this report.

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.