Columbus Circle under police guard as statues come down nationwide amid George Floyd protests

NEW YORK (WABC) -- As protests continue over the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis and amid nationwide calls to remove statues deemed offensive, the NYPD is on guard in Columbus Circle to protect the statue in the controversial explorer's honor.

More protests took place overnight around the country, with some demonstrators beginning to take matters into their own hands by tearing down Confederate statues.

In Virginia, a statue of Columbus in Richmond was torn down, set on fire and thrown into a lake. The figure was toppled less than two hours after protesters gathered in the city's Byrd Park were chanting for the statue to be taken down, news outlets reported.

After the figure was removed from its pedestal around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday by protesters using several ropes, a sign that reads, "Columbus represents genocide" was placed on the spray-painted foundation that once held the statue.

Protesters tore down the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis on Wednesday, and in Portsmouth, about 80 miles away, protesters beheaded and then pulled down four statues that were part of a Confederate monument, according to media outlets.

A statue of Columbus was beheaded in Boston, while a statue in Houston was vandalized with red paint. The statue also bears a cardboard sign with the message, "Rip the head from your oppressor."

In London, England, protesters dismounted the statue of notorious slave trader Edward Colston and tossed it into Bristol Harbour.

Even though Columbus is not tied to the Confederacy, critics have said he should be viewed not as a hero who "discovered" America, but as a foreign conqueror who enslaved natives.

"I think now is the the time we finally say, enough is enough," said Gabe Freeman, who lives in Washington Heights and started an online petition calling for the removal of the statue and renaming of Columbus Circle. "If tearing them down is the only way to get people to realize the magnitude of how much we want this change, then if that's the only way to do it, then fine."

But many say the statue honors Italian Americans who came here and fought for racial equality themselves. Governor Andrew Cuomo points out that while he doesn't support some of what Columbus did, he believes it should remain.

"The statue has come to represent and signify appreciation for the Italian American contribution to New York," he said. "And for that reason, I support it."

Native American advocates have also long pressed states to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day over concerns that Columbus spurred centuries of genocide against indigenous populations in the Americas.

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