Cuomo, de Blasio don't want to see Christopher Columbus statue removed or NYC's Columbus Circle renamed

The statue of Christopher Columbus at Columbus Circle in New York City on  on June 12, 2020.

(CNN)As municipalities across the United States revisit the naming and display of monuments honoring people with histories of racism and violence toward minorities, the Christopher Columbus statue and Columbus Circle in New York City have come under fire for commemorating the man often credited with "discovering" America.

A petition has started on change.org asking for the renaming of the circle and the removal of the statue "from public view," but recent comments from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggest that neither the statue, nor the name of the circle, is going anywhere.
Cuomo said at a press conference Thursday that he felt the statue of Columbus, who originally hailed from Italy, was an important symbol for Italian Americans.
    "The Christopher Columbus statue represents in some ways the Italian American legacy in the country, and the Italian American contribution in this country," he said. "I understand the feelings about Christopher Columbus and some of his acts which nobody would support, but the statue has come to represent and signify appreciation for the Italian American contribution to New York so for that reason I support it."
    De Blasio said Friday he would stick by the January 2018 decision the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers. A majority of commission members "advocated for keeping the Columbus statue and fostering public dialogue," according to the commission's report.

    Columbus under the microscope

    Students in the United States are taught that Columbus discovered the Americas, sailing across the Atlantic in his three ships: The Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria. The Italian explorer is even celebrated every October during a federal holiday named after him. However, many historians agree that Columbus wasn't the first person, nor the first European, to discover the "New World." Indigenous people had been living in the Americas for centuries before Columbus' arrival.
    Columbus has long been considered a contentious figure in US history for his treatment of the indigenous communities he encountered and for his role in the violent colonization at their expense.
    Dozens of cities and states -- such as Minnesota, Alaska, Vermont and Oregon -- have already replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People's Day.
    Now, in response to the nationwide protests and conversation surrounding racial inequality, people have been tearing down Columbus statues.
    In Houston, a Columbus statue was vandalized overnight Thursday, left stained with red paint and with a sign reading, "rip the head from your oppressor," CNN affiliate KTRK reported. CNN affiliate WHDH reported a beheaded Columbus statue in Boston early Wednesday morning and a destroyed statue in Richmond, Virginia, on Tuesday night.
    Earlier Thursday afternoon, a statue of Columbus was removed from Farnham Park in Camden, New Jersey, city spokesman Vincent Basara confirmed to CNN.
    Indigenous people had inhabited the New World long before Columbus arrived in 1492. History.com says he enslaved many of them and treated them with extreme violence and brutality.
    Columbus and his men also brought diseases such as smallpox, measles and influenza to the island of Hispaniola. In 1492, there were an estimated 250,000 indigenous people in Hispaniola, but by 1517, only 14,000 remained, according to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.

    Indigenous and Italian American communities respond

    In an emailed statement to CNN, Betty Lyons, the executive director for the American Indian Law Alliance, pinned Columbus as the center point for "centuries of racism and dehumanizing of indigenous peoples" in the United States.
    "Until the larger society confronts those oppressions head-on, and realizes that the symbols of that oppression go far beyond the Confederate flag, peace will not come to the land," Lyons wrote. "Until then, Cuomo, as does [President Donald] Trump, continues to have his knee on our necks."
    The National Italian Americans Foundation issued a statement Friday expressing its belief that vandalizing and removing any statues of Columbus is "culturally insensitive and divisive."
    Anita Bevacqua McBride, the NIAF's vice chair for cultural affairs, told CNN over the phone that the NIAF is not discriminating "against any other group."
    "We stand with those who are facing this disenfranchisement now and groups that feel marginalized, [that] are victims of racism and injustice," she said. "And we support the right to peacefully protest. But we don't support the vandalizing and destruction of Columbus statues."
    When asked if the statue was worth revisiting due to changing historical views on Columbus, McBride suggested the same should be done with Founding Fathers of the United States if the focus remains on their positive qualities and not their slaveholding.
      "We have always supported there being an Indigenous People's Day or statue," she said. "But the country continues to evolve in how it celebrates characters. That's not the issue. We're talking about removal, construction, complete elimination. That is an affront to the tens to twenty millions of Italian Americans whose heritage is from these massive waves of immigrants who overcome discrimination to scrape [money] and contribute to making [the statues] possible."
      CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the day a statue of Columbus was removed from Farnham Park in Camden, New Jersey.