San Jose leaders Tuesday voted to remove a controversial Christopher Columbus statue standing in the City Hall lobby.

“I think everyone’s been twisting themselves into pretzels to avoid hurting people,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo after more than 60 community members addressed the council, some calling for the statue’s removal and others saying it should stay put. “Let’s stop twisting ourselves. Let’s see if we can at last put this behind us and focus on what’s positive, and there’s a lot positive in our community to honor.”

The Italian American community will have six weeks to find a location for the statue — a symbol that has ignited a storm of controversy — or the city will place it into storage. The City Council had been considering a range of other options, including relocating it to San Jose International Airport beyond security, and moving the statue to History Park at the Bank of Italy building, but they proved contentious.

For many, the statue has come to represent violence and the glorification of a man denounced as a brutal European colonialist. As council members spoke, some in the audience held signs calling for the removal of the statue and others stood and turned their backs in a silent show of protest.

The statue is “a symbol of genocide,” said Peter Ortiz, 28, who was born and raised in San Jose and is a member of the Brown Berets, which sought to remove the statue from public land.

He was among a number of impassioned residents who filled the council chambers to plead for its removal.

And several council members agreed.

“He belongs in history books,” said Councilwoman Sylvia Arenas. “I don’t believe he belongs in our City Hall.”

“This does not come from a place of hate. This comes from a place of justice for my community,” said Ortiz. “It is impossible to erase this history,” said Gloria Lally, a San Jose resident with indigenous roots who supports moving the statue off public land. “It is engraved in my people’s minds.”

In recent years, the statue has been vandalized at least twice. Last year, a vandal poured red and black paint on the statue, and in 2001, a man shouting “Murderer!” and “Genocide!” smashed the statue’s face with a sledgehammer.

Councilman Raul Peralez had hoped some consensus would emerge during the public comment period, but acknowledged that didn’t happen.

“None of these locations that are proposed today are the appropriate location for this statue,” he said. “A statue of this sort belongs in a museum.”

But so far, no museum has been identified to accept it. The statue was created by a student who never did another sculpture, said Jon Cicirelli, acting director of Public Works, and is not particularly valuable as a work of art.

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