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Protesters in L.A. topple statue of Junipero Serra, who helped colonize California

A cheering crowd at Father Serra Park near Union Station in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, June 20, toppled a statue of Junipero Serra, a Catholic saint known for his role in the Spanish colonization of California. Father Miguel Rodriguez pays homage …
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A cheering crowd at Father Serra Park near Union Station in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, June 20, toppled a statue of Junipero Serra, a Catholic saint known for his role in the Spanish colonization of California.

Father Miguel Rodriguez pays homage to an image of Junipero Serra during Mass at the Carmel Mission, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, in Carmel-By-The-Sea, Calif. Serra, an 18th-century missionary who brought Catholicism to the American West Coast, was elevated to sainthood Wednesday by Pope Francis in the first canonization on U.S. soil. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) 

About 100 people tugged on ropes that were tied around the monument’s neck and brought the metal fixture tumbling backwards in footage uploaded to social media by LA Taco at 2:22 p.m. One person in the group of protesters, who were not visible in the recording, could be heard shouting “this is for our ancestors,” as the statue landed with a deep, resonant clang.

The demonstration was referred to as an “unmonumenting and cleansing of space” done in partnership with the Tataviam and Tongva Tribal Nations, according to a statement from members of Los Angeles’s Native/Indigenous community. The act was described as “a step forward in returning balance to these lands.”

“No police intervened as this was a ceremony,” Joel Garcia, a witness who helped author the statement on behalf of the Tataviam and Tongva Tribal Nations, said. “We had some elders share songs at the start and we collectively built an altar following the removal.”

Natives just tore down the statue of Junipero Serra at Placita Olvera in solidarity with #BLMprotest #antiracism #antislavery pic.twitter.com/8ZDdv7vej7

— L.A. TACO 🌴🌮 (@LATACO) June 20, 2020

Children were seen sitting on the statue after it fell, and a collection of grapes, dragon fruit, and flowers were placed on the pedestal where it had been installed.

Serra is credited with founding nine missions in California. He was canonized as a saint in 2015, despite opposition from American Indian groups for his role in aiding the Spanish settlement of the west coast.

Statues commemorating figures associated with either slavery or the colonization of indigenous people have drawn the outrage of protesters. On the East Coast, statues honoring Confederate war heroes were destroyed or defaced following weeks of mass demonstrations centered on the issue of institutional racism in the United States and sparked by the killing of George Floyd last month while in Minneapolis Police custody.

In San Francisco, a group of demonstrators brought down another statue of Serra that had been installed in the Music Concourse of Golden Gate Park on Friday evening. Monuments representing Ulysses S. Grant, the general who helped end slavery by leading the Union to victory over the confederacy in the Civil War, and Francis Scott Key, the writer of America’s national anthem and a slave owner, were also forced from their pedestals by protesters at the park.

Several confederate monuments were removed at the order of North Carolina’s Democratic governor, who said he was trying to avoid violent clashes or injuries from toppling the heavy monuments erected by white supremacists that he said do not belong in places like the state Capitol grounds that are for all people.

“As monuments are removed from our public spaces through cathartic action some impose a narrative of violence onto these actions but in reality, the violence occurred long before that and continues today,” representatives of the Tataviam and Tongva Tribal Nations said Saturday. “The violence has been memorialized in these objects. The violence occurred through the installation of these symbols of domination and dehumanizing actions.”

The Statue that fell in Los Angeles Saturday was originally cast in bronze by sculptor Etorre Cadorin in 1930 and installed for the city in 1934, according to the Smithsonian Institution. The park where it had been displayed is across the street from  Union Station and near Olvera Street and Historic El Pueblo de Los Angeles.

The statue of Junipero Serra came down quickly and without any resistance from law enforcement. @LATACO pic.twitter.com/C0CyoLuYeI

— Lexis-Olivier Ray (@ShotOn35mm) June 20, 2020

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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