By Christopher Breslin
The daffodils are up in Columbus Circle and the metal barricades that were in place for nearly ten months have finally come down. Columbus Circle and the fountain area are free again for all to roam and enjoy.
Sometime in the night on the day before St. Patrick’s Day the police who had been guarding the statue of Christopher Columbus 24/7 since June of last year quietly departed without a whisper.
When the police first arrived in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter protests, Columbus Circle was transformed from a place of bucolic beauty into a frozen zone that resembled a military blockade with police vehicles, lights on, stationed inside a perimeter of metal gating.
Through the next 10 months, the 76-foot-tall monument received a full-time security detail to ensure that no one damaged it.
Neighbors have debated Columbus and his place in history for the past few years. Some felt the statue should be taken down because of Columbus’ well-documented past atrocities, while others felt Columbus earned his right to be honored.
One question that no one could answer was how much this round-the-clock security was costing.
On a gusty afternoon with a slight chill in the air the fountain area below the statue was sparsely populated. One of the few people in the area was a construction worker named Greg, who was sitting on the steps below the statue eating a sandwich. Asked what he thought the operation cost, he said “A lot of money, I bet. We saw the police here for most of the winter, at least when we started back to work.”
Another passerby named Jennifer, who was walking across the fountain area carrying two bags from Whole Foods, said, “I couldn’t even begin to think about how much it cost. We have all been through a lot this year. We have to move on, and people must stop hating. History was and will never be perfect.”
Doug Turetsky, chief of staff of the Independent Budget Office, said, “Unfortunately there are no accurate breakdowns. We don’t know how much of this was regular time pay or how much of this was overtime pay. We just don’t have any accurate information on it.”
For now, Columbus Circle is back to being a place of happiness and tranquility. Three high school kids were riding their skateboards, doing tricks and jumps. They were laughing and talking with each other.
They said their names were Charlie, Gabe and Daniel. Charlie grew up on the Upper West Side, and Gabe and Daniel are from the East Side, but they like to meet up at Columbus Circle.
“It’s one of my favorite spots on all of the West Side to skateboard,” said Charlie. “I am happy it’s open.”