NEWARK — The state's largest city became the latest community to remove a Christopher Columbus statue from a public space.

Mayor Ras Baraka said the city removed the statue that has stood in Washington Park since 1927 in order to avoid the risk of people taking it down on their own.

The statue had been a gift to the city from the Italian American community, for which Columbus has long been a symbol of pride. The Columbus holiday was developed to honor Italian Americans, who were once a persecuted minority in urban areas. 

“The removal of this statue should not be perceived as an insult to the Italian-American community,” Baraka said in a written statement. “It is a statement against the barbarism, enslavement, and oppression that this explorer represents.”

The statue is being kept in storage until a decision is made about what to do with it, according to the mayor.

Elsewhere in the state, Camden removed its Columbus statue days before a protest calling for its removal. West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi announced his township's statue will also be removed.

In Trenton, activist Niambi Aaliyah McCoy led a protest on Thursday in front of the statue at Columbus Park in the Chambersburg section. She called the explorer "Christopher KKK Columbus" and a rapist of Indigenous people.

The statue was covered with a tarp and a wood box around the base after two instances of vandalism.

McCoy posted an online petition to have Columbus replaced with a statue of David Dinkins, a graduate of Trenton Central High School and New York's first elected Black mayor in 1990.

"This much needed statue change will create space for black children and families to learn about honorable Blacks, such as Dinkins," according to her petition. "We believe that his statue will inspire Black children and bring about positive change in our neighborhood."

McCoy and Tanay Lee, 21, were charged with criminal mischief for spray-painting "Black Lives Matter" on the base of the city's statue of George Washington on North Montgomery Avenue early Thursday morning.

Pictures posted by The Trentonian show Trenton city workers putting a wood box around the base of the statue. City spokesman William Skaggs said the statue was cleaned up and the spray paint removed.

A committee of residents will decide what happens with the Columbus statue, according to Skaggs, who said the city has no plans to move the Washington statue.

City Councilman Jerrell Blakeley praised the actions of Lee and McCoy on his Facebook page.

"Salute to Tanay Lee and Niambi McCoy. What these two brave sisters who wrote BLM on the George Washington statue did is no different than what the American colonists did in defacing statues of George III during the American Revolution," Blakeley wrote. "In fact, Tanay and Niambi are better in my eyes because they weren’t hypocrites like many American colonists In saying Give Me Liberty or Death and holding black people in bondage."

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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