MIAMI — Seven people were arrested for vandalizing statues of Christopher Columbus and Juan Ponce de León in Miami, and one man was charged with smashing a patrol car with his skateboard and trying to incite a riot, the city’s police said.
The arrests happened Wednesday after a chaotic scene ensued in the city where about five dozen protesters had a confrontation with police, and a day after a figure of Columbus was torn down in Richmond, Va., and another was found beheaded in Boston, Massachusetts.
In Miami, demonstrators spray painted statues of Columbus and Ponce de León, a Spanish explorer who landed in Florida, in Bayfront Park with the letters “George Floyd,” “BLM,” and a hammer and sickle, news outlets reported. Miami police said one man encouraged other protesters to attack a patrol car and he smashed the vehicle's windshield with his skateboard, shattering glass on officers inside.
There is “zero tolerance for those who hide behind the peaceful protesters to incite riots, damage property, and hurt members of the public or our officers,” police added in a news release announcing the arrests.
Some protesters had been blocking police cars before the confrontation, news outlets reported. A video of the altercation from the Miami Herald shows several officers getting out of their car and tackling one protester to the ground while other officers push the crowd from the scene.
“We’ve been peaceful all week long and you just broke that peace,” Richard Dombroff, a demonstrator, told officers after the confrontation. Dombroff was given an award from county leaders for stopping people from damaging a convenience store during a protest in late May, WFOR-TV reported. Louis Hernandez, another demonstrator, said police had “came out and started brutally slamming protesters,” before the chaos ensued.
The Wednesday rally was originally organized to honor the death of an 18-year-old man, Israel “Reefa” Hernandez, who died after police used a stun gun on him in 2013, the Herald reported.
Statues of Columbus across the nation are often vandalized on Columbus Day in October as the 15th century explorer has become a polarizing figure. 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.
The charges against the arrested men include incite to riot, battery against an officer, aggravated assault, criminal mischief, unlawful assembly, disorderly conduct and resisting an officer.