A federal court has ruled against a group of Italian-American women who sued New Haven in an attempt to force the city to return a statue of Christopher Columbus it removed from Wooster Square Park.
The setback in court by the American Italian Women for Greater New Haven marks another milestone in New Haven’s forced exile of the famous navigator.
[ New Haven removes Christopher Columbus statue after standoff between supporters, protesters ]
The city removed the statue in June 2020 - apparently without giving the public notice or voting on the question - from a once thriving Italian neighborhood where about 200 immigrants paid to have it erected in the tiny park as a gift to the city more than a century ago.
Since then, an effort to replace Columbus with something more culturally acceptable has not come to pass.
Columbus suffers from historic revisionism in New Haven, just as he has elsewhere in the country. Rather than discoverer of a new world, he has become despoiler of its inhabitants. The statue was carried off from Wooster Square over fear of vandalism.
The American Italian women’s group argued in their suit that the statue, among the park’s cherry blossoms, was a focal point of their charitable activity, which includes fundraising for scholarship. They said they meet in Wooster Square for a variety of purposes, including recruiting, and formerly conducted an “annual wreath-laying ceremony . . . at the base of the statue” with approximately 40 other Italian heritage groups.
The suit contends that Columbus was removed after a meeting of the Board of Park Commissioners - a meeting at which the statue was not on the agenda. Regardless, the suit contends, the commission somehow reached a “consensus” that the statue should be removed, without voting on the question.
It was gone a week later and the suit claims the decision to remove was based on the city’s “pro-African American/anti-Italian American policy,” a policy the city has “established and perpetuated.”
U.S. District Judge Janet Hall dismissed the lawsuit “without prejudice,” which means that under the terms of her ruling the suit is out, but the American Italian women have until the end of the month to amend their complaint and refile.
Their lawyer, Patricia A. Cofrancesco of East Haven said the group is reluctant to discuss an ongoing case, but added, “We will move forward with this.”
Hall said the group had grounds to sue — since it has been deprived of the opportunity to carry on with its wreath laying ceremony at the base of the statue. But the judge said the group was otherwise unable to demonstrate it was discriminated against, treated differently than other similar groups, denied an opportunity to oppose removal and had its first amendment right to free expression violated by removal of the statue.