PROVIDENCE — A teacher at Joseph Jenks Junior High School in Pawtucket, R.I., and two women are accused of trying to vandalize a Christopher Columbus statue in Columbus Square early Saturday.
The monument was recently boarded up and fenced off in an attempt to protect it, following attacks on Columbus statues in other cities. But the giant wooden box encasing it still became a target, said Providence police Major David Lapatin.
Derrick W. Garforth, 34, a social studies teacher at Jenks, and Charlotte Whittingham, 28, both of Providence, were arrested just after 1:30 a.m., after detectives in the area saw them run up and lob containers of paint at the boxed statue, according to police. The paint splattered on plywood and fencing surrounding the statue.
Garforth and Whittingham appeared to have been dropped off by Mackenzie Innis, 26, of Peabody, Mass., who was arrested when she looped back to pick them up. Detectives reported finding open containers of paint, masks, and gloves in her car.
Garforth and Whittingham were charged with desecration of a grave, a felony, and all three were charged with conspiracy. They were due to be arraigned later Saturday at the Providence Public Safety Complex.
Garforth did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Saturday morning.
The Columbus statue, a cast of a sculpture by Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty, has been the target of vandals multiple times over the years, each time forcing a debate over the legacy of the Italian explorer.
Raymond Two Hawks Watson, chief executive officer and founder of the Providence Cultural Equity Initiative, said Saturday that the attempted vandalism wasn’t a surprise, given that the monument has been defaced repeatedly in the past and that the Columbus statue in Boston was recently beheaded by protesters. (Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said his city’s statue will be placed in storage.)
Watson said the Columbus statue is located on land in Providence that was home to his Mashapaug Narragansett Tribe, and he said, “You have large populations of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans nearby in Providence, and that is who Columbus colonized.”
Watson called for moving the statue to a safe indoor location, and for a community discussion about Columbus and his legacy — including the viewpoints of the Italian community, the Native American community, and others.
“Let’s be intentional about it,” Watson said. “I can’t justify the statue given my people’s history of colonization, but I want to respect and give space for other communities in the relationship they have to the statue.”