Senate GOP sharply critical of response to toppling of Christopher Columbus statue

Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matt Langer testified before a Senate committee Wednesday about the toppling of the Christopher Columbus statue on the Capitol grounds June 10.

Senate Republicans held an oversight hearing on Wednesday repeatedly pressing Minnesota public safety officials on why state police failed to prevent the June 10 toppling of the Christopher Columbus statue at the State Capitol. 

GOP state senators said Tuesday they were angry that no one had yet been charged in the incident. State Patrol Col. Matt Langer said officers used restraint to prevent conflict with a large and passionate crowd. 

This was the second of four hearings of the Republican majority Senate Transportation Committee about the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd. The GOP majority’s decision to forgo any investigation of the Floyd killing itself or police reform measures has drawn criticism from Democrats, who say the hearings are nothing more than election year politics of a distinctly racial flavor. 

“This hearing was thirteen straight, white, Republican male legislators dictating to Minnesota that the only thing that went wrong in the past month was an insufficient crackdown on the part of the police against People of Color,” Dibble said in a statement after the hearing, adding that “It’s appalling that the Senate Republicans seem to care more about this damaged statue than making a change to protect our fellow human beings from the brutality they have faced in our state at the hands of our police officers.”

The Columbus statue was of many topplings of monuments and statues of historical figures who held racist views, enslaved Black people, led the Confederacy or committed colonial atrocities against Indigenous people.

“It puts it in everybody’s mind that we can go down and tear down any statute, we can deface anything down here and nothing is going to happen to us, and that is the message that was sent to all Minnesotans,” said state Sen. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville.

The lack of accountability, Republican state senators said, would encourage other “lawlessness” and potentially put at threat other monuments or representations of problematic historical figures.

Erected in 1931, the Columbus statue has been the subject of controversy in recent years given the Spanish explorer’s legacy of genocide and atrocities committed against Indigenous people.  

 

Led by Transportation Committee Chair Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, Republicans demanded to know why state troopers didn’t prevent the toppling of the statue despite receiving several hours notice of the demonstration, including plans to remove the statue.

They repeatedly pushed without evidence a theory that the Minnesota State Patrol were told by the administration of DFL Gov. Tim Walz o “stand down” and allow Native activists to topple the statue. . 

Langer, questioned by Dibble, said there was no order or instruction like that given to troopers. 

Harrington also said “There was absolutely no order given. There was a plan.”

Harrington said state troopers had at least two plans that had been approved, including first attempting talking with protestors to inform them of the proper removal process. The backup plan was to have 35 troopers deployed to the site to maintain order. He also said the statue came down far easier than they planned for, limiting their ability to respond.

State Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, suggested the statue be restored to its location on the Capitol grounds and said activists should follow official channels if they wanted it removed. 

“Put it back up and go through the process,” Jasinski said. “Lawlessness does not work.” 

Langer said criticism over the lack of arrests so far is “fair” and said they were considering how to best handle the crowd. “This was a highly volatile situation that had the potential to be extremely ugly, using force and using chemicals, and it was our decision to not go that route on this evening.”

Harrington said charging documents were submitted to the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office. 

DFL Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, criticized the in-person hearing over health concerns during the pandemic. Additionally, there were limitations on DFL senators’ participation, including not giving opening statements and requiring in-person participation.

“These guidelines are a blatant attempt to silence people, specifically, senators of the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus, that represent the areas most affected by the recent unrest, and ultimately their constituents. The people of Minnesota and our colleagues deserve the respect, discourse, and transparency these hearings are looking to curtail,” Kent said in a statement. 

 

Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.