Protesters lassoed a statue of Christopher Columbus outside the State Capitol Wednesday afternoon and pulled it to the ground, saying their action was a step toward healing for Indian communities.
Dozens of people gathered by the statue on the grounds outside the Capitol before pulling it down. American Indian Movement activist Mike Forcia talked to a State Patrol captain sent to the scene to encourage protesters to follow a legal process for removing the statue, which has stood on the Capitol grounds since 1931. Forcia said they had tried that route many times and it had not worked.
The protesters then looped a rope around the statue and quickly pulled it off the stone pedestal and to the ground. The patrol officer watched from a distance as protesters sang and took photos with the statue for about half an hour.
State officials said they had been warned about the action via social media. It was mentioned at a news conference an hour and a half earlier with Gov. Tim Walz. Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said then that the patrol would meet the protesters and seek an alternative resolution.
Columbus, a 15th-century Genoese explorer, has long been a target of activists for his role in colonizing, killing and exploiting indigenous people.
Before the statue came down, Forcia and others said Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan should address the crowd. But no elected officials came out to speak. After a discussion with the patrol officer, the crowd moved to tear down the statue.
Forcia asked women to station themselves in front and hold the ropes, citing them as leaders and calling attention to the large number of missing and murdered indigenous women — an issue that lawmakers have taken up in recent years after a community push.
The statue crashed to the pavement after a few moments of tugging, but did not appear to be heavily damaged by its tumble. Singing, drumming and joyous chants followed.
Forcia said after the statue was removed to an undisclosed location, the patrol told him he will be charged with criminal damage to property in the coming days. “I’m willing to take that,” he said. “The paradigm shift is happening and it was time.”
The patrol is investigating and charges are possible, said Eric Roeske, the patrol captain who spoke with Forcia before and after the statue was removed. He said about 40 officers were on the scene, but they did not gather until after the statue was torn down.
“We want to reduce violence, and we’re trying to not have a repeat of what happened in Minneapolis,” Roeske said.
Late Wednesday, Walz released a statement saying that protesters should have followed a formal process to have the statue removed. “While that process was too long for those who were pained by the statue’s presence, that is not an excuse for them to take matters into their own hands ... . Even in pain, we must work together to make change, lawfully,” Walz said.
Jolene Engelking, of Minnetonka, saw the event posted on Facebook and brought her 9-year-old daughter Olivia to bear witness.
“We felt this was something that was so historic,” said Engelking, whose mother is enrolled in Minnesota’s White Earth Nation. “We wanted this statue down for a long time.”