PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- There was a growing police presence Sunday afternoon in South Philadelphia, where the Christopher Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza is the focal point of debate. Mayor Jim Kenney responded to the armed guard that has been holding vigil at the base of the Columbus statue.
Kenney says the "vigilantism" is inappropriate, but a city spokesperson told Eyewitness News that there are no plans to remove the statue from Marconi Plaza any time in the future.
"They're doing the same Columbus did. They're coming into our neighborhood and taking away our heritage, OK?" John Fosco said. "They're hypocrites."
Fosco is one of the dozens of people who have kept around-the-clock guard of the Columbus statue at Marconi Plaza since Saturday afternoon when Eyewitness News found some armed with bats and others with guns all patrolling the plaza while police were working to keep the situation calm on Sunday.
But tensions rose on Saturday when a left-wing nonprofit news organization called Unicorn Riot approached some demonstrators and refused to leave. The reporter's bicycle tires were slashed.
On Sunday, some at the plaza told Eyewitness News they feel like they're the target of reverse-racism. They point to last week when Columbus monuments were removed in Wilmington, Delaware, and Camden, New Jersey, arguing that we should learn from our past -- not erase it.
"The first thing that I learned in third grade -- Christopher Columbus discovered America. So as an Italian immigrant, this [statue] represents something to me, my Italian history," one person said.
On Sunday, Kenney wrote in a Twitter thread, "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. 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."
All vigilantism is inappropriate, and these individuals only bring more danger to themselves and the city," he wrote. "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."
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner also criticized the armed group in a thread on Twitter.
"Hey, bat-wielders: Saying you are 'defending' something doesn't prove you really are. And using a bat--or anything else--for an illegal purpose (such as assaulting or threatening or harassing people) is a criminal act. Prosecutors and police will uphold the law in Philly, consistent with their oaths, against criminal bullies. So save your bats for a ball game. And save your hatchets for chopping wood. We remain the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection," Krasner wrote.
South Philadelphia resident Russell Burke was asked why he came to Marconi Plaza on Sunday.
"I'm here today to protect my neighborhood because these neighborhood people did nothing to anyone," Burke said.
Some argue the Columbus statue represents the opposite.
"It represents a massacre. They conquered a new world and they murdered people," Juanangel Green Lopez said.
Dozens of people who were part of the group guarding the statue moved to a home in South Philadelphia that they believed the mayor was at. Dozens chanted "Kenney Must Go" outside.
"We're here because we want answers from Kenney," one man said. "That's why."
About 50 people came together outside of the home in South Philly concerned city leaders were planning to remove the Columbus statue.
"At the end of the day, it's really not about the statue," a man said. "It's about the rights of the people. You give in to terror by letting people destroy and then you give them what they want?"
While the city doesn't plan to take down the statue at Marconi Plaza, a group of people plans to spend a second night there standing guard.
CBS3's Matt Petrillo and Dan Koob contributed to this report.
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