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City to once again consider removing racist Civic Center statue

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It’s not over

Photo by David Tran Photo/Shutterstock

At this rate it’s starting to feel like the fight over the city’s “Early Days” statue in Civic Center has been going on since California’s early days.

In truth, some San Franciscans—particularly those of Native American heritage—have lodged objections to the monument for decades, arguing that the scene (which depicts a pious but pompous looking missionary helping up an anachronistically dressed Indian apparently knocked down by a nearby vaquero) is patronizing and tries to put a friendly face on European settlement of California.

Earlier this year, a series of city bodies voted to finally remove “Early Days,” ceding to pressure that began to mount again in 2017 in response to bids to remove statues of Confederate soldiers and leaders in other states.

But in April the city’s five-person Board of Appeals unexpectedly blocked the removal, alleging that the Historic Preservation Commission acted inconsistently and arbitrarily by signing off on the plan despite the 19th century piece’s age and historic standing.

At the April hearing, board Vice President Rick Swig compared removing the statue to an act of political violence, declaring, “’Rehabilitation’ is what they do in countries where there is genocide, we remove people for ‘rehabilitation. [...] That is suppression of thought, that is genocide.”

But that wasn’t the end of it as the San Francisco Arts Commission asked for a rehearing on the issue, which the Board of Appeals approved Wednesday on a 4-0 vote. (Swig was absent.)

Tom DeCaigny, director of Cultural Affairs for the Arts Commission, compared the “Early Days” figures to a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Wednesday’s hearing.

Protesters in the hearing room held signs declaring: “Tear Down White Supremacy.”

Jeff Schmid, the lawyer who originally appealed the city‘s decision, was also on hand to defend “Early Days,” saying that, among things, “art should not be destroyed.”

Note that the statues would be put into storage in lieu of destruction if the bid for removal eventually carries the day. The city hasn’t yet set a date for the next hearing.

Note that the rest of the larger Pioneer Monument will remain unchanged one way or the other.
Photo by Tobias Kleinlercher / Wikipedia