Do private statues belong on public land?

A bust of Christopher Columbus is perched in front of the public library a few blocks from my home. For nearly 30 years, people in my community have either celebrated or protested around the statue on Columbus Day, renamed last March to Cabrini Day. Hundreds of members of the local community, many of my neighbors including Indigenous and Latinx peoples, have on a yearly basis voiced their opposition to the hero worship of mass genocide. On the other side of the street, Italian-Americans have stood in solidarity to celebrate their heritage, history and culture.

Protesters have recently urged city officials to remove the statue. Supporters have demanded the statue remain. For the last few weeks, the site of the Columbus statue on Abriendo Avenue has become a gathering point for both sides. The location is also attracting unwelcome agitators intent on creating a scene of armed conflict in Pueblo. The Mile High chapter of the Proud Boys, a men’s rights group, are currently confronting members of Antifa on our streets. The police separate the two sides with yellow tape but how long can the tension build without violent consequences?  

Perhaps this issue is not about Columbus. It’s a legal matter about private property on public land. So, what is the city of Pueblo to do about a historical monument erected in 1905 “after raising funds from Italian-Americans across the U.S.” and has been decorated and maintained by the local chapter of the Order Sons of Italy in America?   

Perhaps the only regulation of legal importance is Colorado Revised Statutes 24-80-501.

“The state historical society shall have exclusive management and control over such historical monuments and shall reconstruct, restore, repair, construct, install, and furnish, in its discretion and to the extent of moneys available to it, such buildings, museums, or other structures.”

(*Note:  when researching about the legality of ownership regarding statues, auto-correct changes it to Statutes which is incredibly irritating. Use the word “historical monuments” instead when contemplating a Statute of Statue Limitations.)

The solution may be that the Colorado Historical Society (History Colorado) is the governmental agency to determine the fate of the statue. Since this is a city issue, would not El Pueblo Museum have local authority over memorials, a type of historical jurisdiction?     

Thus, the mayor nor city council is responsible for the erection or removal of a privately donated historical monument on public land. A city-wide petition could gauge public opinion, but most likely has no legal recourse. The Sons of Italy, as the original benefactors of its construction, may request the city to change the location of the monument, as was voluntarily done with Confederate statues in Virginia by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Ultimately, together as a community we must decide if private statues belong on public land.