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Columbus protest turns into clash with counter-demonstrators
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Columbus protest turns into clash with counter-demonstrators

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A confrontation took place Saturday afternoon between a group of Kenosha teens known as Kenosha Activism and counter-demonstrators supporting Italian heritage.

The confrontation was very loud at times, but peaceful.

The Kenosha Activism organizers—three local high school students from Indian Trail High School and Academy—had planned a march titled ”Justice for Indigenous People’s Protest” for the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue in HarborPark and to urge educators to revisit the teaching of the history of Columbus.

Beginning at 12:30 p.m. the group started out on what was to be an hour-long march from the Kenosha Municipal Building along 52nd Street to the statue of Christopher Columbus in HarborPark.

There they were met with a large number of counter-demonstrators holding signs saying “Preserve Italian Heritage,” and “Keep Calm and Have a Cannoli.”

As Kenosha Activism sat in the circle in front of the statue chanting “Tell me what democracy looks like!,” the counter-demonstrators stood in front of the statue, singing quietly.

There was a large police presence with groups of officers spaced throughout the crowd.

After sitting and chanting the marchers marched, some holding signs not specifically related to the cause of re-teaching the history of Columbus such as Black Lives Matter and “Defund the Police.”

Observing and attending were members of the Knights of Columbus as well as alderpersons and other public servants.

“I’m here because of my constituents and my heritage,” said county board supervisor, Gabe Nudo. “A lot of Italians (in Kenosha) have worked hard and contributed a lot of money to this community.”

Terry and George Ebner of Kenosha said they were at the rally to support those of Italian descent and the police. “We back the blue and support the Italians,” Terry said.

Supporters of Kenosha Activism felt their cause was just as well.

Kimberly and Jeremiah Johnson of Kenosha said they were there to support their children who took part in the march.

“I applaud what they are doing,” Kimberly said. “They need to fight for their future and for justice for the past. If they don’t I don’t think we can have equality.”

“I tried to teach my kids the real history of America; not what they’re teaching in schools,” added Jeremiah.

Supporters of Italian heritage were not part of the original rally.

According to Tim Rocco, the presence of those in support of Italian culture came about following social media rumors that there would be violence at the rally. “It was rumored that some people from Illinois were going to try to hijack the protest and make it violent, but that didn’t happen; it was just protesting,” he said.

“We saw (the protest announcement) in the paper and came because we were concerned protesters might do something to the statue,” George Ebner said.

Rocco gave a shout-out to the police attending the rally. “It should be noted that our police held their own even when they were provoked by the crowd,” he said.

The event lasted until 2:30 p.m. during which time the demonstrators left the statue grounds and circled back at least once. Shortly before their final departure for the Municipal Building, Alderman Rocco LaMacchia approached and hugged Whitney Cabal (who uses the name Billy Violet on social media), a spokesperson for Kenosha Activism.

He told her he had heard online that the event might be violent and was glad it had not.

Cabal acknowledged “the angst” felt by the Italian Americans present and tensions expressed by the activists as well.

“Today was very frustrating and a lot of hateful things were yelled in my ears,” she said. “I tried to pay respect to (supporters) of Columbus and present a plan to the community not to tear down the statue but to move it.”

Nudo noted that differences about history should not be contentious. “I like everybody’s history—It’s history whether we agree on something or not.”

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