Dozens of demonstrators converged under a raised bust of Christopher Columbus in downtown Detroit on Saturday and demanded the monument come down as they protested against white supremacy and a list of perceived affronts to black Detroiters.
The peaceful gathering, organized by the Detroit chapter of BYP100, formerly known as the Black Youth Project 100, was one of numerous rallies and protests across the country in the wake of last weekend’s street clash in Virginia over the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a park.
The Detroit demonstration, held on a large traffic island with the Columbus monument at Randolph and Jefferson, went off without incident. It had been publicized on Facebook and dubbed, “Reclaiming our history: A Detroit without white supremacy.”
Organizers said they were unaware of any Confederate monuments in the city, so were focusing on memorials to other historical figures tied to a white supremacy mind-set.
The demonstration did not attract any organized counterprotesters, although a man in a passing vehicle drew condemnations when he yelled “all lives matter.”
“A lot of these symbols of genocide and colonialism in America are no longer being tolerated,” said Adrian Polk, a member of the chapter, which is largely comprised of people ages 18 to 35. “These symbols need to come down.”
Along with railing against Columbus, the demonstrators denounced water shutoffs in Detroit, gentrification in and around downtown, and the proliferation of downtown security cameras. They also cursed the names of Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit businessman Dan Gilbert.
Another demonstrator led the crowd in the anti-gentrification chant “Cass Corridor — not Midtown.”
Organizers said they will start circulating an online petition for the Columbus monument’s removal.
The plaque on the monument’s stone pedestal says it was dedicated to the explorer’s honor in 1910 by “the Italians of Detroit.” A second plaque says the monument was relocated to its current site in 1988.
“Christopher Columbus has a real disturbing legacy in the United States,” said demonstrator Antonio Cosme. “He’s a central central narrative to white nationalism. He’s one of the key figures in this whole Western identity. This whole idea that the civilization of the world started in England, that it started in France, that it started in Germany.”
“Instead of making it Columbus Day, we want to make it indigenous and African peoples day,” Cosme said.
Saturday’s biggest demonstration involved thousands protesters in Boston who opposed a “free speech” rally featuring right-wing speakers.
In Charlottesville, Va., last weekend, clashes broke out between a group of white nationalists and counterprotesters, and a woman was killed and more than a dozen others injured when a car rammed the counterprotesters.