‘How can a community thrive when its governing body turns a deaf ear to its own people?’

Concerns raised over Christopher Columbus statue's placement in Johnston's Memorial Park


As a concerned constituent, I attended the Town Council meeting on Monday, July 10, where I presented valid questions, heartfelt concerns, and thoughtful considerations regarding the controversial Columbus statue in Johnston Memorial Park. Unfortunately, my concerns were met with an alarming air of indifference. How can a community thrive when its governing body turns a deaf ear to its own people?

Below is a transcript of my speech during the Johnston Town Committee meeting on Monday night.

Questions, concerns, and considerations for the Columbus statue:

'We cannot run away from history; the Christopher Columbus statue is a symbol of Italian culture.' - Quote by Joseph Paulino Jr., former 33rd Mayor of Providence.

My name is Tamra Moretti, and both sides of my father's lineage are 100% Italian descendant. My family comes from the regions of Monticello and Abruzzi. It is the Italian passion within me that led me to speak here today, even though other parts of me are really nervous!

Last year, when I shared with my father that I was working with a legislator to pass a bill in Rhode Island for the beauty industry, he was immensely proud. He told me that my activism came from both sides of our Italian relatives. Today, I stand before you with questions, concerns, and considerations for the Columbus statue.

The intent behind my questions and concerns is primarily focused on public safety, fiscal responsibility, and the accountability of the Town Council to serve the people of Johnston.

1st question: What will it cost the town to honor the special condition stated in the sale from the Board of Contract and Supply City of Providence (RI)? The special condition states that the statue must be well preserved, protected, and not damaged, altered, manipulated, or melted down in any way. When can the people of the Town expect to see these plans?

2nd question: In the event of vandalism to the statue, what are the consequences or punishment for the responsible person or minor? Are the charges or consequences the same for someone who vandalizes the statue with, say, a balloon filled with red paint versus egging it? When can the people of the Town expect answers to these questions? Moreover, in the event of constant missed attacks, does it have any impact on the wildlife or environment if paint balloons filled with red paint are hurled at the statue or if a drone drops paint on it?

Concerns: The reason Providence removed the statue was due to the inability to afford continuous police presence around it. I spoke to the Johnston Police, and they assured me that they are trained for riot and protest situations, as all police should be at this moment, especially after the events following George Floyd's death in the United States. However, they couldn't answer who would bear the cost when the police department needs extra protection or presence around the statue, or if vandalism becomes repetitive. What is the difference in funding between a town charter and the funding for the capital city of RI?

I regularly visit the park with my 8-year-old son. Just last night, there was a women's circle sitting in the middle of the island, connecting with each other as women who attend the same church. I've been told that one of the measures being considered is to demolish the bridge as a preventative measure. (Editor’s Note: Asked earlier this week, if he was considering removing the bridge in Memorial Park, Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena Jr. insisted it was not a consideration. “There was never even a thought about removing it,” Polisena wrote via email on Monday, July 17.)

However, the women sitting on the island had no idea that the statue was being placed in the park, or that the island may no longer be accessible to the living human beings who currently enjoy the park. I've asked many people in the park, on multiple occasions, if they knew that the Christopher Columbus statue removed from Providence was set to be placed in our park on Columbus Day. From personal experience, I can assure you that anyone I've spoken to in the park had no idea the statue was coming, let alone that it might require shutting off parts of the park they enjoy.

Has the Town considered posting this information inside the park in advance to give people a chance to express their opinions on the controversial statue and the legally binding special conditions for its display?

Considerations: When I spoke to my councilman on Monday night, June 28, I called my father right after because I had a birthday present for him. He asked what was new, and I shared everything I discussed here today. He quickly became defensive, and our conversation ended with him hanging up on me. He disowned me as his daughter, stating that I no longer belonged to him. My first thought after he hung up was, “In order to think you have the right to disown me, you would have had to think you owned me.” No human being has the right to own another living human being.

In 2017, two years after I moved to Johnston, a woman named Anne Grant wrote a journal titled “Beware the Mamonni, my search to understand domestic violence in Italian culture and RI's Family Court.” At that time, she was the Executive Director of the largest shelter in Rhode Island for battered women and their children.

Polisena Jr. was quoted saying that Johnston is home to the state's most dense Italian American community.

Two significant events occurred the year after Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. In 1974, women could get a credit card without their husband's permission for the first time, and the Women's Center of RI was founded by Italian American women. This group of women in Rhode Island endured the most abuse at that time. I humbly ask this committee to consider dedicating the statue to the Women's Center founded in 1974 by Italian American women. Additionally, I propose having an event in the park every year around Columbus Day to raise awareness about domestic violence and educate people on how to heal from generational abuse.

“You can take away the statue, you can move the statue, but that is not the reason it's being defaced. History is history. But you can learn from it, If you’re not going to learn from your past, you’re doomed to repeat it.” — Statements by Darren Waldron, Head of the RI Indian Council.

During an interview at the time when Providence was deciding where to place the statue, he mentioned that until the real reason for the vandalism is addressed, there will always be a risk for vandalism.

Thank you for your time today.

The statements made by each Town Council member and the lawyer representing the Town were appalling. They went on for over 10 minutes after I had sat down. The decision to relocate a bronze sculpture resembling Christopher Columbus is factually unrelated to Columbus himself, as he has been deceased for centuries.

In the absence of any answers or guidance from the Town Council Committee regarding the display of this object in Johnston Memorial War Park, I learned that Mayor Joseph Polisena Jr. is the only person capable of addressing my questions, concerns, and considerations regarding the item. Unfortunately, neither he nor anyone from his office attended the meeting, even though a constituent was granted permission to speak. It is known that Mayor Polisena Jr. alone holds the authority to answer my questions, address my concerns, and approve the dedication of the statue to the Women's Center of RI. The decision to exhibit this controversial item lies solely with him, making him responsible and accountable for responding to any questions or concerns raised by Town constituents.

If you like myself have any inquiries or concerns, please feel free to contact the Mayor directly at Jpolisenajr@johnston-ri.us.

Most sincerely,

Tamra Moretti

Johnston Italian constituent, mother, and fierce protector of others


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