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Groups protest Columbus Day

Demonstrators attempted to disrupt Columbus Day activities on both sides of Tampa Bay on Monday, as groups around the bay area celebrated the 500th anniversary of the explorer's landfall in "the New World."

About three dozen demonstrators arrived about 12:15 Monday afternoon at the statue of Christopher Columbus at The Pier in St. Petersburg. Their mission: to prevent the celebration of Christopher Columbus, who, depending upon the point of view, either "discovered" or "invaded" America.

And in Tampa, about a dozen protesters carrying signs and shouting slogans attempted to disrupt a Columbus Day observance Monday by the Knights of Columbus.

The Pinellas demonstrators brought visual aids. One sign addressed the European element of the population: "When you come, we die." It was attributed to "Chiparopai, a Yuma elder."

The Lakota words "hanto yo" were written on another sign. "That translates into, "Scram!'

" declared Sheridan Murphy, a prelaw student at Broward Community College.

The demonstrators were mostly young and showed a preference for T-shirts with militant slogans. One young man's shirt sported a picture of Columbus under the slogan, "Wanted _ Dead or Alive." Under the picture, the shirt said: "For rape, murder and destruction of a civilization."

"We brought along some tapes of tribal music and chants," said Llyn French, a demonstrator. "There was drumming, too."

The Pinellas demonstration pretty much drowned speechmaking by members of Sons of Italy and Knights of Columbus when the groups arrived about 12:30 p.m. and were blocked from putting a wreath in front of the statue.

"We yelled, "No way,'

" said Lois Tomas of the Native Peoples' Information Exchange. "The men circled the statue and linked arms."

The Columbus partisans waited around for a time, then left. Soon after, the demonstrators left, too.

Local headquarters of Sons of Italy and Knights of Columbus were not picking up their phones Monday afternoon, but in Washington, D.C., Philip R. Piccigallo, national executive director of the Order of Sons of Italy commented on the St. Petersburg demonstration:

"We acknowledge many negative and tragic results from Columbus' journeys. But the demonstrators are painting it all in black and white for political purposes _ and never mentioning the positive aspects of Columbus' achievements.

"Columbus did enslave people, but he did not introduce slavery, brutality or colonization to the Americas. These ignoble practices were already being used by the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas."

In Tampa, protesters from the Native Peoples' Information Exchange and the American Indian Movement were barred from Columbus Park where Mayor Sandy Freedman and U.S. Rep. Sam Gibbons, D-Fla., took part in a ceremony near a large statue of Columbus. Instead, the protesters marched on a sidewalk outlining the park.

Lois Tomas, a protest organizer, said her group was troubled by the mayor's participation in the observance, which Tomas characterized as "celebrating genocide."

"The mayor has led marches against hate crimes, and here she is condoning one of the greatest hate crimes of all."