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Photos: Juneteenth Protesters Topple Golden Gate Park Statues Of Serra, Key, Grant

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- The statues of Junipero Serra, Francis Scott Key, U.S. Grant laid on the ground in the pre-dawn darkness of Golden Gate Park Saturday, toppled, broken and defaced by a large crowd of Juneteenth protesters who gathered Friday night to demand an end to racial injustice.

San Francisco police said they received several calls around 8:15 p.m. Friday reporting an unruly gathering in Golden Gate Park in the area of Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr. and Martin Luther King Jr. Dr.

KPIX Photo: Betty Yu

Arriving officers saw several protesters -- many dressed in all black -- vandalizing multiple statues. As they approached, objects were thrown at the officers.

KPIX Photo: Betty Yu

On social media, videos were posted showing a group of protesters toppling Junipero Serra's statue as cheers erupted from the crowd. "Stolen Land" was spray painted on the concrete based of the statue -- a reference to the former Catholic priest who established several missions in the state but has been harshly criticized for his treatment of Native Americans who populated California at the time.

KPIX Photo: Betty Yu

The protesters then moved on and targeted their ire at other statues with controversial backgrounds. The statues of Key and Grant also were toppled and defaced.

The statues removals come amid an ongoing push to remove monuments to historical figures associated with racial injustice, as the nation wrestles with questions about race following the death of George Floyd and weeks of nationwide protests against police brutality.

Police said the crowd peacefully dispersed at around 9:30 p.m. No injuries or arrests were report.

KPIX Photo: Betty Yu

The crowd's actions came a day after a statue of Christopher Columbus at Coit Tower was removed by city work crews.

In an email, a representative from the San Francisco Arts Commission said the statue "was removed because it doesn't align with San Francisco's values or our commitment to racial justice."

The email also noted that there were safety concerns after protest flyer circulated online calling for citizens to remove the statue themselves at an action on Friday. The commission representative said, "A 2-ton statue falling from its pedestal presented a grave risk to citizens."

The SF Arts Commission issued the following official statement:

"At this important time in our country, we are all examining the ways in which institutional and structural racism permeate our society. Public art is no exception. In cities across the US, many historic monuments are being taken down because the actions and ideas symbolized do not deserve to be venerated. Representation matters. That's why we can, and should, continue to create artwork that reflects our values, and the diverse communities we serve."

The statue has been safely placed in storage, according to the Arts Commission.

"We look forward to engaging the community in a meaningful conversation around next steps for the statue, and for the site," the email said.

The spot where Columbus gazed out at the Golden Gate is now just an empty pedestal, and that pedestal drew plenty of visitors Thursday.

"I'm really happy for the native community," said a Russian Hill resident named Howard. "But also all of us that are willing these days to look at history a little more critically."

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