Image via Nick-philly / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
Image via Nick-philly / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

In Philadelphia, a city with a deep Italian heritage, Columbus is celebrated with an annual holiday parade, and supporters at the statue said they considered him an emblem of their heritage.

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A group of people gathered around a statue of Christopher Columbus in south Philadelphia over the weekend, saying they intended to protect it from vandals amid the recent protests — despite criticism from the mayor.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that about 100 people clustered around the statue of the explorer at Marconi Plaza on Saturday, at least two with guns and others with baseball bats. Thomas Easterday, 50, said the goal of the gathering was simple.

“Protecting the statue from these rioters who want to take it down,” he said. A woman nearby held up a sign saying “Stand Up, South Philly Won’t Stand Down.”

On Sunday, Mayor Jim Kenney said in a Twitter post that officials were aware of “groups of armed individuals ‘protecting'” the statue.

“All vigilantism is inappropriate, and these individuals only bring more danger to themselves and the city,” he said. “We are also aware of an apparent assault caught on video tape, as well as possible restrictions placed on journalists filming the event. These incidents are under investigation at this time.”

Easterday and others said they hoped not only to ward off any vandals but to send a message to the mayor that they wouldn’t approve of removing the statue in the middle of the night — as the mayor did with the statue of former mayor Frank Rizzo from a building near City Hall earlier this month.

In Philadelphia, a city with a deep Italian heritage, Columbus is celebrated with an annual holiday parade, and supporters at the statue said they considered him an emblem of their heritage.

“It would be over my dead body before they got to this statue,” said Anthony Ruggiero, 41, wearing an Italia jersey. “This is a part of history.”

Statues of Columbus were earlier removed in nearby Camden, New Jersey, and Wilmington, Delaware.