In the wake of national and local protests, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) wants City Council to consider renaming Columbus Park and relocating a statue of the park’s namesake, Christopher Columbus. Treviño filed a request Wednesday for the item to be taken up at an upcoming Council committee meeting.

The statue was donated to the City of San Antonio from the local Christopher Columbus Italian Society, which requested the relocation of the statue and supports renaming the park to Piazza Italia (Italy Square).

“Although the Christopher Columbus statue in the park does not have the same associated feelings for us as it does for other, we want to be respectful and considerate of what it symbolizes and how it impacts them,” the Italian Society board wrote in a statement sent Thursday.

Despite a history of being celebrated in the U.S., Columbus’s legacy is marred by the devastation his expeditions wreaked on indigenous populations in the Americas. And removing his likeness from public spaces has gained momentum across the country amid the Black Lives Matter movement.

The society has property adjacent to the 2.1-acre park, located at 500 Columbus St.

Four other Council members – Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4), Manny Pelaez (D8), Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6), and John Courage (D9) – supported Treviño’s request for consideration.

Columbus’s early exploration of the Americas set the tone for the often-violent colonization of the U.S. Effigies of Columbus have become commonplace at Black Lives Matter protests against systemic racism and white supremacy. The protests were sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis resident who died last month while a white police officer knelt on his neck.

Floyd’s death has spurred another Council request from the dais’s only black occupant, Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan, who represents the City’s East Side.

Andrews-Sullivan (D2) filed a request to consider banning the use of a specific choking and strangling tactic that is currently authorized by San Antonio Police Department only when deadly force is authorized.

According to the SAPD manual, the “lateral vascular neck restraint” and other deadly force tactics are “authorized only to protect an officer or another person from what is reasonably believed to be an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury.”

Police officers should have a duty to “de-escalate their use of force when a person’s actions indicate that the method of force has achieved a level of compliance,” Andrews-Sullivan wrote. “Following this principle, it should be considered unlawful to continue the use of deadly force in the form of a chokehold … if a person has already been restrained, tied down, or handcuffed.”

President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order banning police from using chokeholds “unless an officer’s life is at risk,” according to the order.

Police reform has been a rallying cry of protests throughout the nation, including local ones, but the San Antonio demonstrations have not centered on Columbus Park or the statue. Last week, however, a handful of indigenous activists renewed a years-long request to change the park.

Similar Columbus statues are slated to be removed from the California statehouse and other public facilities. One was removed from a St. Louis park last week.

Antonio “Tony” Diaz, a former mayoral candidate, is one of those activists and has been an outspoken critic of Columbus Day celebrations. He successfully lobbied Bexar County officials to establish an Indigenous Peoples Day (Oct. 12) in 2015.

What is now the northwest edge of downtown San Antonio hosted a flourishing Italian immigrant community in the late 19th century, Treviño noted in his formal request for Council consideration. The Italian society was founded in May 1890 and built the Italian Catholic Church, San Francesco di Paola, in 1927.

The local group is one of the oldest Italian societies in the country, he noted.

“With the renaming of the park, the City will continue to honor the significant contributions Italian immigrants made to our community in the heart of their former neighborhood,” Treviño wrote.

The Italian Society suggested that the statue be replaced “with a symbol that fully embodies our culture and heritage with a collaboration between the Christopher Columbus Italian Society, San Antonio Arts Commission, and Historica and Design Review Commission.”

“We acknowledge and celebrate everyone’s history and hope that in the decision to remove the statue it empowers others to feel heard,” the board wrote.

When a Confederate monument in downtown San Antonio’s Travis Park was removed in 2017, some groups protested the “removal of history” from public view. Council voted 10-1 to remove the statue, and it was carried out at around 1 a.m. the following day.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org