WESTERLY R.I. (AP) — Police said Friday that they caught two people red-handed trying to vandalize a statue of Christopher Columbus in Rhode Island.
Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey said the two had been among a group that tried to spray paint on the Columbus statue across from town hall at around 3:30 a.m. on Thursday.
Officers, however, intervened before any damage could be done, he said. The two suspects were found carrying spray paint, stenciling material and other items. Lacey said the group also had a jug of red paint they intended to pour on the statue.
Lacey said Jasmina De Leon Gill, 28, of Providence, and Toni Jonas Silver, 25, of Boston, were each arrested on misdemeanor charges of injury to a public monument and trespassing.
They pleaded not guilty during their arraignment Thursday in Wakefield district court and are due back in late September, according to court records. Their lawyer declined to comment Friday.
The privately run Westerly Library and Wilcox Park, where the Columbus statue is located, called the incident “troubling and disappointing” in a statement posted on Facebook on Friday.
“Questions about an historic community asset like the Columbus statue should be addressed with thoughtful, respectful dialogue – not with vandalism on private property by out-of-towners in the middle of the night,” the statement read, in part. “We look forward to arriving at a conclusion to this issue through a respectful process and thank the community for their support.”
Westerly’s Columbus statue, like others nationwide, has faced increased scrutiny following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Officials in Boston and Providence removed Columbus statues that have been the focus of vandalism and protests in recent years.
Columbus’ sailing expeditions led Europeans to discover America, opening the door to centuries of exploration, conquest and settlement that included establishment of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the killing of scores of Native Americans.
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