Proposed public art bill that could remove statues sparks need for clarification
Earlier this month, reports circulated regarding a proposed bill to remove public art of so-called “controversial” historical figures like Christopher Columbus in city-owned spaces.
It resulted in a mild furor from community groups and even officials on Long Island volunteering to provide the statues a new home. It turns out that the bill in question, Intro 1085, never mentioned Columbus, or any name at all.
"Why, when this bill doesn't name Christopher Columbus, do you automatically think Columbus? Because they understand that Christopher Columbus did a lot more than these statues show," said City Council Member Sandy Nurse, one of the bill’s sponsors. “People should read the bill. Once they read it, they can understand there are some options here."
The primary goal of the bill is to mandate the removal of public art or names attached to city buildings associated with individuals linked to slavery or crimes against indigenous people or humanity. In cases where removal is not feasible, the bill requires the installation of explanatory plaques providing a more comprehensive account of the person's history.
"A full story about perhaps the great things they did and also extremely harmful things that we still live with," Nurse clarified.
The bill's scope extends to approximately 2,500 city-owned public art pieces, not all of which are considered problematic, but Nurse says there are some she has in mind.
“Figures like Thomas Jefferson, Peter Stuyvesant, George Washington, and Christopher Columbus,” she said.
In East New York, Brooklyn, a high school named after Thomas Jefferson is one example of a figure that Nurse believes students should know the full background.
"Predominantly young Black kids are in this school. They should know that Thomas Jefferson enslaved people at the age that they are, that he raped people, had children by rape, and then enslaved them," said Nurse.
Some residents who spoke with News 12 said they are in favor of the bill and leaning toward these names being removed completely.
"I love that. That's real history, whether we're going to accept it for what it is or fight for what we know it's about," said Jacina Love Moya, a resident and teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School.
"It's kind of like sticking it in our face, we did these things to you, you suffered, your people have suffered, but we dropped this little dime here," said Shyrurah Wilson, who graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School.
"We should point out some of the indiscretions that have been done by some of these folks in the past. Yes, it was a different time, a different era, but I believe it's inflaming to me and those coming up now. I believe there should be some direction on correction," said Shanell James, a resident of East New York.
For Nurse, these reactions are another reason why the bill matters.
“When we uplift those who perpetuated oppression, or built intergenerational wealth off of it and not tell the full story we’re not allowing ourselves to learn from it,” said Nurse.
Nurse says after incorporating council feedback, members will work with the chairs of the cultural affairs and civil rights committees to pass the bill in addition to an entire Juneteenth package of bills.