JOHNSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — It’s been three years since the historic and controversial Christopher Columbus statue was removed from Providence.
The statue is officially put back in the public eye Monday after it was unveiled at its new home in Johnston Memorial Park.
The statue was gifted to the town by former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino Jr., who bought it from the city earlier this year.
Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena Jr. told 12 News he understands the criticism targeted at Columbus, but it’s unfair to use the standards of today to measure the actions of someone who lived five centuries ago.
WATCH: Protesters and supporters clash at unveiling (Story continues below.)
The statue was originally located in Columbus Square on Elmwood Avenue in Providence but was boarded up a few years ago after vandals threatened to tear it down.
Joseph Gizzarelli expressed his frustrations with the statue being placed in the park.
“I don’t believe that we need to prop up this genocidal maniac anymore to be proud as Italian Americans,” he said. “We’re here celebrating this horrible person. If we had German pride that was synonymous with Hitler, everyone would be outraged. Yet somehow, this is normal.”
Gizzarelli, who an Italian American himself, believes the statue shouldn’t be displayed in the park and should instead be preserved and used educationally.
“It’s not just a hunk of concrete, right?” he said. “This object should be protected in a museum with historical context.”
But others disagreed with Gizzarelli’s suggestions.
“You can’t get rid of your history,” Louie Vecchione said. “No matter what the history is, you just can’t get rid of it because you learn lessons from history.”
“People may say bad things about him, but you know, he was the person that came here and discovered America,” he continued. “He’ll always be a great Italian to me.”
Gizzarelli argued that Italian Americans don’t need to honor Columbus to celebrate their heritage.
“This is not something that we need to be proud of ourselves,” he said. “Let’s have festivals that celebrate our food and our culture. We don’t need this anymore. We don’t need this symbol of genocide and murder anymore.”
Gizzarelli, who was one of two residents to protest at the statue’s unveiling, was booed by the crowd and asked to leave.
Though Gizzarelli explained he had no desire to vandalize or tear down the statue, Polisena said the town is taking extra precautions to keep it safe.
“We have a security system in place here. It has 24-hour monitoring and is close to the police station,” Polisena said. “I don’t anticipate Johnston having the problems that Providence had.”
No taxpayer dollars were used for moving or setting up the statue.