SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is calling for the removal of a controversial statue depicting one of the city’s founding fathers and early mayors, Thomas Fallon.
The statue depicts Fallon on horseback in 1846 as he prepares to raise an American flag over the tiny outpost that would later become the city of San Jose. At the time, San Jose was still part of Mexico and would not change hands for another two years at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War.READ MORE: Bay Area Health Expert Hails Potential of Single-Shot COVID-19 Vaccine in Pandemic Battle
“It would be more accurate to show people trampled under the hooves of those horses,” said community activist Rebeca Armendariz who wants the statue removed from its current location on the outskirts of downtown.
Armendariz told KPIX she can’t divorce Fallon’s role as a soldier in the Mexican-American War and later as a mayor of San Jose from the murder and mistreatment of Native Americans and people of color once California became part of the United States at the war’s conclusion.
“This statue celebrates him as someone who came into this territory, planted a flag and was essentially committing terrorism,” she said.
Last Friday, community members called on city officials to remove the statue during public forum in which some commenters described the statue as representing racism and white supremacy.
The statue was commissioned the late 80s and kept in crates for years because it offended Mexican Americans. It was finally put on display in 2002 at W. St. James St. and W. Julian St.
On Monday, Mayor Sam Liccardo issued a recommendation for the city to begin the process of removing the statue. “For a significant portion of our community, the Fallon Statue has become a deeply painful symbol of racial oppression,” Liccardo said in an essay posted on Medium in which he discusses his rationale to have the statue removed.READ MORE: High School Girl Sues San Mateo County, State of California to Allow Indoor Youth Sports
Call for the statue’s removal were revived during the recent protests for social justice and the nation’s reassessing of monuments and statues increasingly associated with racial oppression and white supremacy.
Fallon’s supporters say it’s not fair to judge him for all of the events that would unfold after the war, and certainly not for the actions of others.
“It’s important to understand that taking down a statue is not going to reverse history or reverse the wrongs that have been done. Erasing history means we’re no longer learning from it,” said former San Jose City Councilman Johnny Khamis.
Fallon’s statue has been controversial since its inception. The city of San Jose commissioned the statue in 1988 and it was completed in 1990. But due to public outcry, it would sit in storage collecting dust for more than a decade until finally being installed in 2002.
“Statues celebrate. They’re not just to tell history — they’re to celebrate it,” explained San Jose State University Public Relations Professor Shaun Fletcher. Professor Fletcher says a wide-range of historical figures and statues came under renewed scrutiny in the protests following the death of George Floyd.
“Statues or monuments that are giving celebration to otherwise dark periods in American history, they’re now coming under what I believe is warranted scrutiny,” Fletcher said.
Last June, the statue was defaced with red paint; it has also been vandalized with graffiti and singed after a small fire was set on it.MORE NEWS: Longtime San Francisco Merchants Lament Recent Spike in Burglaries
“I urge that we refocus our collective energy on the critical tasks we face as a community—to keep people safe during a pandemic, to sustain families amid a painful recession, and to rebuild shattered lives and businesses in our recovery, Liccardo said in his memorandum. “I further hope that when these crises clear, we can move forward with a more generative community dialogue—not about what we want to tear down, but about what we want to build.”