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Walla Walla County commissioners condemn Columbus statue vandalism; plan to discuss its future

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Columbus statue

Vandals struck the Christopher Columbus statue on June 30.

The Walla Walla Board of County Commissioners today released a statement condemning the recent vandalism of the Christopher Columbus statue in front of the county courthouse while inviting discussion about the statue’s future.

One person egged and spray-painted “stolen land” and “genocide” on the 7-foot-tall statue on June 30, according to Walla Walla County Undersheriff Joe Klundt. A deputy was assigned to investigate the case involving the 1911-era monument, he said. A 15-minute surveillance video, taken from the courthouse, caught footage of the suspect, Klundt said.

In their release, commissioners said they understood many citizens’ concerns about the statue’s “appropriateness” where it stands now, but they urged conversation rather than vandalism.

“...We cannot and will not condone vandalism to promote meaningful conversation or change,” the release stated. “Blatant disrespect for the law diminishes the credibility, rationale and character of those involved. In the near future, we will endeavor to engage the community in substantive discussions surrounding the statue and its future at its current location.”

No date has been set yet for those meetings.

The vandalism occurred after two online petitions to remove the statue began circulating last month.

About 10 emails also were sent to county commissioners urging removal of the statue that opponents say glorifies a figure whose arrival sparked genocide for Indigenous people.

One of the petitioner organizers, Sam Aparicio, told the U-B in an interview that she was from Los Angeles and attending Walla Walla Community College. She said she has faced obstacles, such as being fired and arrested, since moving here less than two years ago. She said she planned to return to Los Angeles to finish her education, but in the meantime she wanted to see the Columbus statue removed.

“I’m sick of driving down the road and seeing a statue of someone who murdered and sexually assaulted people,” she said.

She added her signature goal was 33,000 for the petition, although the online site stated 2,500 were wanted. Aparicio said she planned to present the petition to county commissioners for consideration after she felt she had enough signatures.

The statue was privately funded by 98 Italian immigrant families, according to historical archives. Extensive Italian immigration to the area likely started around 1870. Many of those people’s names are inscribed on the statue, and their descendants still live in the Walla Walla Valley. A parade unveiled the gift to the county on Oct. 12, 1911.

Following the vandalism, petitions and emails, the Italian Heritage Association of Walla Walla met to discuss their steps. However, the IHA president today declined further comment.

Emily Thornton can be reached at emilythornton@wwub.com or 509-526-8325.

Emily Thornton covers courts and emergency services, as well as other various stories. She has been in the newspaper industry off and on since roughly 1999 and lived primarily on the West Coast, but also Florida and Europe.