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Charges Expected After Christopher Columbus Statue Toppled At Minnesota Capitol

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) --On Wednesday, a group of protesters pulled down a statue of Christopher Columbus Wednesday outside the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul. On Thursday, officials say charges are expected.

The Minnesota State Patrol says that, while no one was arrested after the statue was pulled down just after 5 p.m. Wednesday, they have identified an "instigator who will face charges related to destruction of public property."

The case will eventually be turned over to the Ramsey County Attorney's Office.

John Harrington, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, says officials were aware of the plan to remove the statue. Members of the State Patrol and the Department of Public Safety met with the organizer of the event when he arrived, and that person was informed of the administrative process to remove the Columbus statue.

The protesters said Columbus was responsible for Native American genocide, and it was time for the statue to go.

This is part of a wave of actions against historic monuments across the country and parts of Europe that are connected to racism and slavery -- spurred by protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.

The Minnesota Historical Society's Jessica Kohen says that "the responsibility for the statue belongs with the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board. MNHS will advise on its conservation, but we do not make the decision about whether it goes back up."

The State Patrol says the statue is currently in an undisclosed location, in the interests of public safety.

"I can't say I'm sad the statue of Christopher Columbus is gone. I'm not," Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said Wednesday evening.

Gov. Tim Walz released the following statement:

As a former social studies teacher, I taught my students that many Minnesotans look at that statue and see a legacy of genocide. Now more than ever, we must take a hard look at the dated symbols and injustices around us. The Minnesota Historical Society and the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board have a formal process to remove statues from the Capitol grounds, and it's important that process is followed in order to ensure the safety of bystanders and the preservation of surrounding property. 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 and remove it in that fashion. Even in pain, we must work together to make change, lawfully. I encourage Minnesotans to have productive, peaceful conversations about the changes that need to be made to create a more inclusive state. 

However, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka spoke out on Thursday, saying that the incident represents a "complete failure of leadership" from Walz, and said the state is in chaos.

"They knew there was a threat to the Christopher Columbus statue, and (Walz) failed to adequately protect it. The mob mentality to do whatever people want without repercussion has got to stop. The Governor didn't protect the Third Precinct, he didn't protect businesses on Lake Street, and the Lieutenant Governor condoned the destruction on public property," Gazelka said.

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