SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP/CBS13) — A statue of Spanish missionary Father Junipero Serra in downtown Sacramento, California, was toppled by demonstrators on Saturday.
The statue, which was erected in Capitol Park in 1965, was brought down amid a protest focusing on the rights and historical struggle of indigenous people.
The 18th century Roman Catholic priest founded nine of California’s 21 Spanish missions and forced Native Americans to stay at those missions after they were converted or face brutal punishment. Serra died in 1784.
The California Highway Patrol said that at around 9 p.m. on Saturday, a group of about 200 demonstrators moved onto Capitol grounds toward the statue.
Investigators said members of the group spray-painted and beat on the statue before attempting to set it on fire. The agency said protesters then wrapped tow straps around the statue and pulled it down. The CHP said an investigation is underway to find those responsible.
Statues of Serra have been defaced in California for several years by people who said he destroyed tribes and their culture.
Last month protesters pulled down Serra statues in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Meanwhile, statues on the East Coast honoring Confederates who tried to break away from the United States were also toppled. The incidents occurred amid ongoing demonstrations against racism following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd in May.
Bishop Jaime Soto, of the Sacramento Catholic Diocese, said in a statement:
There is no question that California’s indigenous people endured great suffering during the colonial period and then later faced the horror of government-sanctioned genocide under the nascent State of California. This legacy is heartbreaking. Yet, it is also true that while Fr. Serra worked under this colonial system, he denounced its evils and worked to protect the dignity of native peoples. His holiness as a missionary should not be measured by his own failures to stop the exploitation or even his own personal faults. Holiness, in the end, is more a result of God’s grace and our willingness to cooperate with His mercy. Archbishop Gomez’s letter of July 1st illustrates some of the Franciscan friar’s efforts to do so.
Understanding the efforts of Fr. Serra to bring light into the bitter, bleak darkness of colonial ambition is the difficult task of history. So is the present arduous work to chart the future with hope. The strenuous labor of overcoming the plague of racism should not be toppled by nocturnal looting. Dialogue should not abdicate to vandalism. Nor should these unnerving episodes distract us from the duties of justice and charity upon which a better California can be built.
On this Fourth of July weekend, we are reminded that our common cause is to be a living monument to those words carved into the American soul, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’
All monuments are imperfect as are our efforts to live up to America’s founding ideals. The primary task is to build up our community, not tear it down.