Italian-American group sues New Haven for return of Columbus statue, says city is biased against them

NEW HAVEN – A charity of Italian-American women has taken the city to court, seeking to bring the Christopher Columbus statue back to Wooster Square Park.

The American Italian Women for Greater New Haven claim in the lawsuit that the city, through Mayor Justin Elicker and the Board of Parks Commissioners, among others, violated their due process rights and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as their First Amendment. civil rights and the protections of the Civil Rights Act, when the statue was removed on June 24, 2020.

The group, represented by Patty Cofrancesco of East Haven, claims in the lawsuit that the displacement constituted a “denial of enjoyment of public housing” and that the city “illegally discriminated against them on the basis of their national origin by denying them full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, benefits and accommodations of Wooster Square Park.

The lawsuit claims that the “policies, practices and decisions of the city … all resulting from a pro-African-American / anti-American policy it established and perpetuated – have had a disparate impact and resulted in the disparate treatment of people. complaining members according to their national origin, Italian.

The city removed the statue of Christopher Columbus, which, according to the lawsuit, was given to the city in 1892 by a group of Italian-Americans. Wooster Square was then a predominantly Italian-American neighborhood and an arch on nearby Wooster Street proclaims it Little Italy.

The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, by a Minneapolis police officer, was followed by protests from the Black Lives Matter movement and extended to other groups. Columbus has been targeted for his treatment of indigenous peoples in the Americas.

According to the complaint, “the friction between the African-American and Italian communities in New Haven has been going on for at least twenty years. The case of Ricci v. DeStefano… was sort of a flashpoint between the two communities.

In that case, brought by firefighter Frank Ricci against then-mayor John DeStefano Jr., the United States Supreme Court ruled that white firefighters were unfairly denied promotions on the basis of their race.

The new trial refers to Concurring opinion of Judge Antonin Scalia in the Ricci case, in which he wrote, “even the district court … admitted that a jury could reasonably infer that city officials worked behind the scenes to sabotage promotion exams because they knew that if the exams were certified, the mayor would incur the wrath of [Rev. Boise] Kimber and other influential leaders of the African American community in New Haven.

“It’s a frivolous lawsuit because this statue will never come back,” Kimber said Tuesday.

Cofrancesco said the Ricci case and Kimber’s role showed a history of favoritism towards black New Haven residents and that emails she obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveal a bias against Italo -Americans.

“There was a large number of Italian Americans emailing the mayor, asking him to reconsider please, please don’t do this, please return my call.” , but got no response, Cofrancesco said.

The Italian American Women of Greater New Haven have 60 members living in Greater New Haven and were previously known as the American Committee on Italian Migration, created by the Missionary Order of Catholic Priests of Scalabrini, the lawsuit says. It gives scholarships to high school students in the area and makes a charitable donation every year. This year, a donation was made to support the blind, according to its president, Fran Calzetta of Branford.

Calzetta then declared that “no great man is a saint”, “we know that Columbus is good and that he belongs to the [Wooster Square] Green.”

In a statement, Mayor Justin Elicker said: “This lawsuit is without cause or merit. We will vigorously defend this case. The plaintiff, by bringing it, drains the city’s resources of more urgent problems before the city. I have championed, and will always be, the city of New Haven as a place that celebrates our diversity and welcomes all. “

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About Michael S. Montanez

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