Debate Reignites Over Removal of S.F. Monument

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The Pioneer Monument in San Francisco's Civic Center, photographed on Aug. 22, 2017. (Arash Malekzadeh/KQED)

The debate over whether to take down the Pioneer Monument in San Francisco’s Civic Center emerged again amid national efforts to remove Confederate statues in the South.

The monument has drawn criticism in the past for its depiction of a Spanish vaquero, fist in the air, standing over a nearly naked Native American. A missionary also bends over the man with a finger pointed toward the sky.

With recent efforts to take down Confederate statues in cities such as Charlottesville and Baltimore, critics of the Pioneer Monument formed a group on Facebook calling for its removal.

An event on Facebook also asks supporters to speak out against the monument. Its description begins:

“Who is done with these white supremacist colonization states?

Who is tired of seeing Natives depicted as savage, less than, not here anymore or unworthy of being human?

Who wants to get rid of this white supremist [sic] statue right here in SF?”

There’s also an online petition titled, “It’s Time to Take Down San Francisco’s Monument to White Supremacy!”

The Pioneer Monument photographed on Aug. 22, 2017. (Arash Malekzadeh/KQED)

The push to remove the monument has gained support from San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who says he thinks it’s time the statue came down.

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“Certainly on the streets of San Francisco, there ought to be symbols that don’t oppress people or remind them of oppression,” Lee said Tuesday. “That symbol continues to be a symbol that bothers [Native Americans], and it bothers all of us if it bothers them.”

Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the district, has also called for the statue’s removal, saying it doesn’t reflect the city’s values.

“Preserving a monument for the sake of history holds less weight than respecting all of our community members,” Kim said. She also said that as a sanctuary city, San Francisco should be welcoming to everyone.

But Melanie Chan, a visitor to San Francisco, says the issue is more complicated and should be given a great deal of consideration.

“Think ahead to the future,” she said. “What will you replace it with? Don’t destroy it for destruction’s sake.”

Any decision on the statue’s future is up to the city’s Arts Commission, which says it will discuss the issue at its Oct. 2 meeting.

A plaque for the Pioneer Monument photographed on Aug. 22, 2017. (Arash Malekzadeh/KQED)