On August 25, 2016, an article I wrote entitled THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES IS DEAD was published in Pravda.Ru. This article expressed my outrage that a federal jury in Fort Wayne, IN only awarded one dollar to members of an African-American family from South Bend, IN, whose home had been illegally entered by police, and their son dragged from his bed, punched, tased, and falsely arrested. What made this verdict particularly reprehensible was, if this young man had a weapon by his bed (as many people do for self-protection) and attempted to retrieve it in the belief he was the victim of a home invasion, he could have been legally shot, and even killed, because, according to the United States Supreme Court, when a “separate Fourth Amendment violation” (like an unreasonable search and seizure) leads to the “need to use force,” police officers cannot be held liable. (Los Angeles vs. Mendez).
Journalism frequently requires the necessity to seek out and investigate injustices, duplicities, and hypocrisies that might otherwise be underreported. Following this guideline, I recently came across a news report discussing how students at Notre Dame University were protesting murals in campus buildings depicting Christopher Columbus. This, in turn, led me to another report discussing how a statue of Columbus, located in Mishawaka, IN (a city near Notre Dame) had been vandalized with red paint.
In this report, a city official made a point of stating that, but for two local attorneys volunteering to pay for repairs to this statue, taxpayers would have been required to foot the bill.
I initially wondered why there was a statue of Columbus in Mishawaka in the first place. The abuses Columbus perpetrated against indigenous populations is well documented, so it seems to be the height of hypocrisy to have a statue of him standing in the heart of a town named after a Native-American princess. In addition, archaeological discoveries have proven that Columbus was not the first European to set foot in what became the Americas, and the stories about his alleged “bravery” for setting sail into the unknown when it was believed the world was flat is utter nonsense. Globes actually existed at the time.
This report went on to discuss why these two attorneys chose to repair the statue. The first politicized the issue, blaming the “alt-left” for the vandalism—a convenient, white privilege inspired term of opprobrium used to denounce anyone who has the “audacity” to believe that American history should include more than the contributions of white, male Europeans. The second attorney argued that preserving the statue was more about honoring his Italian heritage than honoring Columbus as an individual.
This theme was soon trumpeted in an editorial authored by a third attorney, and executive director of the Italian-American heritage society of Notre Dame, Peter J. Agostino.
In this article, which appeared in the South Bend Tribune, Agostino nonchalantly dismisses Columbus’s actions in the so-called “New World” as “shortcomings.” Yet, according to an article in the Huffington Post, these “shortcomings” included enslaving the indigenous population to work in gold mines, resulting in 125,000 deaths; forcing women and girls into sexual slavery; and cutting off the hands, noses, or ears of those who did not mine enough gold, or who resisted in any way. In fact, according to this article, Columbus was even arrested for these crimes (thus negating Agostino’s argument that his activities should be viewed within the “context” of their time).
Agostino then segues into a discussion about the history of Italian immigrants: how their nation suffered “many invasions” from “foreign powers”; how, as “agrarian people,” they were abused by “land barons”; how, in America, they faced discrimination and were unjustly stereotyped as “mobsters”; and how they were called derogatory nicknames. He concludes by proclaiming that “when Italian-Americans see the name Columbus, they don’t think of a single person; they see and hear the names of so many other Italian-Americans . . .”
Before proceeding further, I wish to state that, during my academic career, I studied Intercultural Communication, and this has given me a respect for all cultures. I firmly believe that every race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, and culture have the right to take pride in who they are and where they came from—provided they don’t minimize or denigrate others in the process.
What is disingenuous about Agostino’s argument is virtually every ethnic group or nationality who immigrated to or who were forcibly brought into the United States suffered identical, similar, or, in some cases, worse hardships. The American South, for example, had its own “land barons” who abused African-Americans, first through slavery, and later through sharecropping, where former slaves were often kept in bondage by being paid in currency only redeemable in stores owned and operated by these “land barons,” or by simply being arrested on false charges and being forced to work on “chain gangs.”
So, the question becomes, why do cities like Mishawaka only honor Italian-American heritage via statues of Columbus, yet demand that taxpayers of all races, ethnicities, nationalities, and cultures maintain and repair them? If, according to Agostino, the Columbus statue tells Italian-Americans “you belong here; this is your home now, and you helped make it a better place,” why do so many cities lack similar taxpayer funded monuments to honor immigrants from other nations, and/or the people who resided in the Americas long before Columbus arrived?
But perhaps the most egregious of Agostino’s arguments comes when he engages in hyperbole about “freedom in this awesome country we call the United States of America.”
Most Americans will tell you that the foundation of this freedom resides in the United States Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights. It is this Bill of Rights that contains the prohibitions against “unreasonable searches and seizures” discussed at the outset of this article.
Yet who was the attorney who successfully argued to that Fort Wayne jury that this constitutional right can be violated for the sum of one dollar?
Peter J. Agostino.
I rest my case.
Written by David R. Hoffman