Activists criticize handling of South Philly vigilantes

Christopher Columbus Monument – 2848 S Broad St Philadelphia
Christopher Columbus Monument in Marconi Plaza, 2848 S. Broad St.
PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

Activists are calling on the city to do more to thwart vigilantes after a group, some armed, showed up to Marconi Plaza Saturday to guard a statue of Christopher Columbus.

The scene was reminiscent of an incident that occurred June 1 in Fishtown, when residents wielding bats gathered to “protect” a police station and attacked a journalist.

“We are aware of the groups of armed individuals “protecting” the Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza,” Mayor Jim Kenney said Sunday morning on Twitter. “All vigilantism is inappropriate, and these individuals only bring more danger to themselves and the city.”

“We are also aware of an apparent assault caught on video tape, as well as possible restrictions placed on journalists filming the event,” he added. “These incidents are under investigation at this time.”

A video posted on social media by Unicorn Riot, an nonprofit alternative news outlet, showed pro-Columbus vigilantes trying to intimidate a reporter, Chris Schiano, and allegedly assaulting him. Another person pulls out a knife and slashes Schiano’s bicycle tires.

The clip went viral and had garnered nearly 2.5 million views by Sunday afternoon.

Another video posted by Unicorn Riot shows Capt. Louis Campione, commander of South Philadelphia’s 1st Police District, telling the reporter to leave the area and accusing him of “inciting a riot.”

Residents afraid the statue will be torn down by protesters or removed by the city reportedly gathered in smaller numbers Sunday.

After the episode in Fishtown, Kenney said authorities made a “mistake” allowing armed men to wander the streets for so long while a curfew was in effect. Officers reportedly took photos and high-fived with the vigilantes.

Councilwoman Jamie Gauthier, in response to a tweet about both incidents and a lack of accountability for police, said: “This is disgraceful and indefensible.”

Monuments to Columbus have been targeted by those protesting racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The Italian explorer’s legacy has become increasingly controversial in recent years due to his mistreatment of indigenous people.

Protesters tore down a Columbus statue in St. Paul, Minnesota, and demonstrators in Richmond, Virginia, ripped a similar monument down, lit it on fire and tossed it into a nearby waterway. Sculptures of him in other cities have been beheaded.

Officials in Camden recently decided to remove a Columbus statue at Farnham Park.

Earlier this month, Kenney ordered workers to take down a bronze sculpture of former Mayor and Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo, whose tenure has been criticized for racism and police brutality.

A mural of Rizzo in South Philadelphia was also covered up last week.