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Italian-American groups sue Philadelphia and its mayor

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Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and the city are being sued by dozens of local and national Italian-American organizations, CBS Philadelphia reports. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, involves the toppling of the statue of longtime Mayor Frank Rizzo, the boxing of the city’s Christopher Columbus statue and the replacement of Columbus Day as a city holiday with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The groups claim executive orders Kenney issued about the statues and the holiday exceeded his authority.

“It just so happens that these days we have a mayor who’s completely lost his way and is bent on humiliating and disgracing the Italian-American culture of Philadelphia, and we’re not going to put up with it,” attorney George Bochetto remarked to CBS Philly.

The suit alleges Kenney’s executive orders regarding the Columbus Day name change discriminated against Italian-Americans while exalting another ethnic group.

Similar assertions are made about the statues. Both of those actions are currently the subject of unrelated litigation.

The suit claims Kenney exerted unilateral action only against two iconic Italian-American statues prominently displayed for decades.

At a minimum, it seeks to void the Columbus Day name change.

Rizzo’s bronze likeness was removed in June after it became one of several focal points of protests over police brutality. Many critics viewed Rizzo as racist.

Columbus is accused of sparking the genocide of indigenous peoples. A 2019 study published in the journal Quaternary Science Review estimated that between 1492 and 1600, about 55 million people in the Americas died. The Taíno people were virtually wiped out in the decades after Columbus first arrived on the island of Hispaniola, where Haiti and the Dominican Republic sit today.

Attempts to bring down the Columbus statue drew crowds of protesters in Philadelphia.

“(The suit is) absolutely a power check, it’s an accountability check, it’s a check to hold Mayor Kenny to the same constitutional standard that every other mayor in the country is being held to,” Bochetto said.

In a statement to CBS Philly, the mayor wrote, “This lawsuit is a patently meritless political ploy and will waste precious resources at a time when we are trying to both deal with a devastating pandemic and work to build a safer and more equitable city for all residents. Given this is pending litigation, I am not able to comment further about it at this time.

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