The Civil War monument that includes a commemoration of the Sand Creek Massacre, which has stood for more than a century outside Colorado’s Capitol, was toppled early Thursday morning, the latest act by protesters across the nation to tear down statues honoring perpetrators of racist acts.
The incident comes as Denver’s leaders have called for the city’s landmarks and public art to be reevaluated through a modern lens, as the debate over how to remember our country’s past rages in cities and small towns from coast to coast.
The statue of a Union soldier was toppled around 1:30 a.m., and investigators believe four suspects were involved, Denver police spokesman Doug Schepman said in an email, adding that the crime would be classified as “criminal mischief,” similar to vandalism or graffiti.
“It was up yesterday and it was down today,” said Doug Platt, communications manager at the city’s Department of Personnel and Administration, which maintains the grounds and building. pic.twitter.com/2vg8HsfhRi
— Shelly Bradbury (@ShellyBradbury) June 25, 2020
At the very least, “It was up yesterday and it was down today,” said Doug Platt, communications manager at the state’s Department of Personnel and Administration, which maintains the Capitol grounds and building.
The base of the monument was covered in graffiti Thursday morning — “Defund cops,” “Denver where are you?” — but Trooper Gary Cutler, spokesman for Colorado State Patrol, which polices the Capitol grounds, said he didn’t know whether it was fresh or a remnant of the demonstrations that have taken place there in the weeks since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked a nationwide movement for racial justice and police reform.
Platt said he believes this is the first statue to be toppled during the protests since Floyd’s death, but said “just about everything in the complex has been vandalized.”
— Shelly Bradbury (@ShellyBradbury) June 25, 2020
A little after 9 a.m. Thursday, work crews used construction equipment to remove the fallen statue from the Capitol grounds.
“We shouldn’t be celebrating the genocide of indigenous people,” said Jason Ball, a Denver resident who lives nearby and came by to see the statue’s removal. “That is what this represents. It is a symbol of white supremacy.”
Richard Deandra, an art student, also stopped at the Capitol on Thursday morning to see the toppled statue. “Public art so rarely gets changed, so it’s monumental when it does,” he said.
Gov. Jared Polis, in a statement, said he was “outraged at the damage to a statue that commemorates the Union heroes of the Civil War who fought and lost their lives to end slavery. This statue will be repaired, and we will use every tool at our disposal to work with Denver police and to hold accountable those responsible for the damage whether they are hooligans, white supremacists, confederate sympathizers or drunk teenagers.”
Rep. Dave Williams, a Colorado Springs Republican, expressed his dismay at the early morning act.
“Last night rioters town down and defaced Colorado’s Civil War statue of a union soldier,” he wrote in a tweet Thursday morning. “These thugs really don’t care about symbols of hate. If they did, then they’d tear down the ultimate institution of racism that promoted slavery and Jim Crow instead — the Democratic Party.”
Last night rioters tore down & defaced Colorado’s Civil War statue of a union soldier.
These thugs really don’t care about symbols of hate.
If they did, then they’d tear down the ultimate institution of racism that promoted slavery & Jim Crow instead – the Democratic Party. pic.twitter.com/ZoJFLJmZUX
— Rep. Dave Williams (@RepDaveWilliams) June 25, 2020
Reexamining monuments to the past
As Americans once again grapple with how to remember the nation’s past, Mayor Michael Hancock announced last week that the city is creating a commission to “evaluate Denver landmarks and public spaces, including public art, associated with racist groups or ideologies,” a news release stated.
This includes the statue in Civic Center titled “Christopher Columbus,” which has drawn increased scrutiny in recent days from City Council members and activists alike. The statue is actually a reference to Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” but the plaque honors Columbus. That statue will be discussed at a July 7 meeting with the American Indian Commission and the Italian Consulate, the city said.
“I’m hoping that, one, we are able to take the plaque down,” said Tay Anderson, a Denver school board member and community activist. “And two, we can be able to decide as a community: Is this the statue we want in Civic Center, and what can we replace it with?”
The new commission — which includes the Agency of Human Rights and Community Partnerships Advisory Board, the at-large members of City Council, and Denver Arts & Venues — will consult with the State’s Historian Council to “ensure accurate historical review,” according to the city.
A longtime controversy
Some citizens, however, apparently weren’t willing to wait for the commission to go through that process.
Erected in 1909, the statue on the west side of the Capitol portrays a Union soldier, and not, as some have believed, Col. John Chivington, who led the 1864 massacre of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians in what is now Kiowa County. It’s long been controversial.
“I’ve been looking at that monument for years and thinking somebody ought to do something about it,” Colorado Sen. Bob Martinez, a Democrat from Commerce City, told the Rocky Mountain News in 1998.
The monument includes a commemoration of 22 battles and names 279 Colorado soldiers who died, but only 18 of those battles were against Confederate soldiers. Four of them were against American Indians, with the final battle listed being Sand Creek — which was a massacre of Indians by U.S. Army soldiers, not a battle.
In 1998, Colorado’s legislature unanimously approved a resolution to remove Sand Creek from the plaque, but there was pushback from historians and even Sand Creek descendants about leaving it in place.
Nicolas Turner, left, joins others in observing the missing statue in front of the Colorado Capitol building Thursday, June 25, 2020. The statue was torn down in the middle of the night. “It was only a matter of time before this happened,” Turner said. “I wish we could’ve voted on the removal of the statue. It’s hard to know even with the plaque what the full intent of the statue is, but you can’t assume what it represents one way or the other.”
“I’ve never seen the statue myself, but it’s my own opinion that it was placed there for a reason,” Even Laird Cometsevah, president of a Sand Creek descendants’ group, told Westword in 1998. “It’s part of Colorado’s history. You can’t deny the fact that (Sand Creek) was a massacre. It seems to me that a man ought to be able to stand up and accept what he did, to live with it, and try to use the statue as a symbol for teaching young people that we don’t want that to happen anymore. Colorado ought to be big enough to leave it there and try to improve its statehood. It ought to be left alone.”
Lawmakers decided to keep Sand Creek on the statue and add a small plaque, describing what really happened when Chivington and his Colorado Volunteers attacked largely unarmed Cheyenne and Arapaho encampment, killing more than 200 people, mostly women and children.
The Sand Creek Massacre has long been a stain on Colorado’s history. In 2014, Gov. John Hickenlooper convened an emotional ceremony on the steps of the Capitol with Cheyenne and Arapaho tribe members, during which he became the first Colorado governor to apologize for the atrocities.
This content was originally published here.