Last Updated on December 9, 2022

The plywood box that has covered a statue of Christopher Columbus in South Philadelphia’s Marconi Park since 2020 must be removed by the city of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled on Friday. The statue — which stands in the predominantly Italian American neighborhood — has been covered with a wooden box since Mayor Jim Kenney ordered it to be covered up during the George Floyd riots in June 2020.

The Philadelphia Historical Commission later voted to remove the Columbus statue, which officially started a lengthy legal battle. Italian American organizations have fought to keep the statue up, which is currently painted in the colors of the Italian flag.

According to Friday’s ruling, the City of Philadelphia is required to remove the plywood box, reversing a 2021 court decision that allowed the city to keep the box in place.

“This here represents something to me, my Italian history,” said a protester shortly after Mayor Kenney announced a “public process” to decide the Columbus statue’s fate in 2020.

As violent BLM rioters looted stores and burned cars throughout Philadelphia and the outer edges of its suburbs, Mayor Kenney instead chose to condemn demonstrators who had turned up to defend the statue from vandals and protest its removal. The mayor — a South Philadelphia native — referred to the crowd as “vigilantes” and urged them to disperse.

“We are aware of the groups of armed individuals “protecting” the Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza. All vigilantism is inappropriate, and these individuals only bring more danger to themselves and the city,” Kenney wrote in a tweet on June 14, 2020.

Despite threats from the mayor, Italian American organizations continued to fight for the statue to stay up.

As news of the ruling broke, attorney George Bochetto of Bochetto and Lentz held a press conference outside the Columbus statue.

“As a proud citizen of Philadelphia, I am delighted that both Judge Patrick of the Court of Common Pleas and the Judges of the Commonwealth Court have boldly reaffirmed that the rule of law still matters,” Bochetto said. “That we are not a society ruled by cancel culture mobs. That all ethnic groups can proudly protect and honor their diverse heritages.”

A spokesman for Mayor Kenney’s office expressed “disappointment” over the ruling and vowed to continue to fight for the statue’s removal. “We are very disappointed in the Court’s ruling,” Mayor Jim Kenney spokesperson Kevin Lessard told Fox 29. “We continue to believe that the Christopher Columbus statue, which has been a source of controversy in Philadelphia, should be removed from its current position at Marconi Plaza. We are continuing to review the Court’s latest ruling and are working to comply with the Court’s orders, including unboxing.

“While we will respect this decision, we will also continue to explore our options for a way forward that allows Philadelphians to celebrate their heritage and culture while respecting the histories and circumstances of everyone’s different backgrounds.”

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