ELIZABETH, NJ — A petition to remove the statue of Christopher Columbus in Elizabeth has garnered more than 100,000 signatures in just three weeks. The petition also asks that the statue be replaced with one of Marsha P. Johnson, a black activist and transgender woman who was a native of Elizabeth. The petition is one of several asking for Columbus statues to be removed around the state in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and widespread Black Lives Matter protests; Columbus statues have recently been removed in Camden, Newark and West Orange.
“Although it is widely taught that Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas, he could not have ‘discovered’ land that was already occupied by indigenous groups. Many believe celebrating Columbus is glorifying European colonialism,” Celine Da Silva, who started the petition, wrote. “Columbus is not a figure to be celebrated, as he enslaved and killed the Taino. Him and his men also sexually abused Taino women and girls, some as young as 9 years old. He was even arrested in his own time for crimes he committed against Spanish colonists, which included flogging and executions without trial.”
Da Silva believes Johnson should be honored instead because she was a central figure in the 1969 Stonewall riots, which led to the first gay pride marches in the country. She was also a part of the Gay Liberation Front and cofounded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.
“They established a shelter for homeless, gay and trans kids called the STAR house, where they provided shelter, food, clothing and emotional support. She was referred to as ‘Saint Marsha’ because of the things she did for New York’s LGBT+ community,” Da Silva wrote. “We should commemorate Marsha P. Johnson for the incredible things she did in her lifetime and for the inspiration she is to members of the LGBT+ community worldwide, especially black trans women.”
As of press time on July 9, the petition, which is addressed to the city of Elizabeth, had 152,243 signatures. The city has not responded to the petition publicly. Neither Council President Kevin Kiniery nor Mayor Chris Bollwage responded to a request for comment by press time.