Anti-racism protests against slave trader statues grow in US, France

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Passers-by walk near a damaged Christopher Columbus statue, Wednesday, June 10, 2020, in a Boston waterfront park near the city's traditionally Italian North End neighborhood. The statue was found beheaded Wednesday morning, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Anti-racism groups led a “de-colonial tour” of Paris on Sunday to call attention to monuments and streets honoring historical figures tied to the slave trade or colonial-era abuses. The march, starting at the French capital’s Museum of Immigration, is being held on the 58th anniversary of Algeria’s independence from France after a long and brutal war.

It’s organized by a group representing low-income neighborhoods in French suburbs that are home to large communities who trace their origins to former colonies. Black activists and migrants’ rights groups are also joining.

Scattered statues have been covered with graffiti, but French President Emmanuel Macron has insisted that authorities will not remove any controversial monuments, as has happened in other countries. In a call on social networks, the organizers of Sunday’s march accused the government of “ignoring the memory of the peoples it reduced to slavery or colonized by mass slaughter.” They want France to rename streets and monuments for people who fought against slave trading and colonial crimes.

Algeria was considered the jewel in France’s colonial empire and is marking its independence day Sunday with a special funeral ceremony for 24 resistance fighters decapitated by French forces in the 19th century. The fighters’ skulls were brought back to France as trophies and held in a Paris museum for decades until their return to Algiers on Friday.

Statues of figures connected to colonialism and slavery have been ripped from their plinths in the United States and around the world since Black Lives Matter protests were sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis in May.

Protesters in the U.S. city of Baltimore pulled down a statue of Christopher Columbus on Saturday, local media reported, the latest monument to be toppled in anti-racism demonstrations.

Footage published by the Baltimore Sun showed protesters using ropes to pull down the statue of Columbus, the Italian navigator who reached the Americas in 1492, near the city’s Little Italy district and rolling it into the Inner Harbor on the night of July 4.

Long hailed as the so-called discoverer of “The New World,” Columbus is considered by many to have spurred years of genocide against indigenous groups in the Americas. He is regularly denounced in a similar way to Civil War generals of the pro-slavery South.

President Donald Trump earlier mentioned the sailor in his speech to mark the July 4 holiday, when Americans typically celebrate their 1776 declaration of independence from Britain. “Together we will fight for the American dream, and we will defend, protect, and preserve American way of life which began in 1492 when Columbus discovered America,” he said in an address in which he railed against protesters demanding racial justice.