Debate over takedown of controversial monuments turns to Columbus Circle

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MANHATTAN, NY — As calls for the removal of statues honoring confederate soldiers continues nationwide, a local official has refocused the spotlight on the Christopher Columbus monument at Columbus Square.

The Christopher Columbus statue at Columbus Circle is pictured. (Creative commons)

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito addressed the public Monday from Central Park, where protesters met to demand the takedown of a statue depicting Dr. J. Marion Sims, a famed yet highly controversial surgeon.

When questions turned to the towering statue of Columbus in Columbus Square, Mark-Viverito responded that its removal should be considered.

"Obviously this is an issue that would have a lot of emotion," Mark-Viverito said. "We need academics and researchers to be serious and deliberative about criteria, and give us guidance as a city about which monuments are a symbol of oppression and hate in this city.  Having this conversation is long overdue."

While some view Columbus as a symbol of Italian-American heritage and the country's founding, others see him as a conquering oppressor whose actions led to to the deaths of millions of indigenous people.

Video of a group of individuals using a sledgehammer to damage a Columbus statue in Baltimore was posted online Monday.

The video was posted by a user named "Popular Resistance," and included images of a person holding a sign that stated, "Racism, tear it down," the Baltimore Sun reports.

Heated debates have raged for more than a week, since a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia over the removal of Confederate General Robert E. Lee turned deadly when a driver mowed down counter protestors, killing a woman. Two officers were also killed in a  helicopter crash.

At least 25 Confederate monuments across the nation have been removed since the incident, Buzzfeed reported Tuesday.

In the city, a commission established to conduct a 90-day review of "symbols of hate" has since been set up by Mayor Bill de Blasio, the NY Daily News reports.

"I would want the commission to look at that statue as well," Mark-Viverito said Tuesday, referring to Columbus.

While it is not yet known what will happen to the Columbus statue at Columbus Cirlce, if anything, de Blasio told the Daily News the Sims statue will be a focus of the task force.

The Central Park statue depicts a doctor credited with changing the field of surgery, but a feat achieved at the expense of female slaves, whom he operated on against their will and without anesthesia.