Three Connecticut police departments are investigating after statues of Christopher Columbus in Middletown, New Haven and Norwalk were found vandalized.
Middletown police told NBC Connecticut they are investigating after someone vandalized the statue of Christopher Columbus at Harbor Park with red paint. The vandalism happened sometime overnight. The graffiti read "kill the colonizer."
A statue in Wooster Square in New Haven was also vandalized with red paint, according to New Haven police.
Both departments have stepped up security in those areas.
Norwalk police said they are investigating vandalism of a statue of Columbus, but did not release any other details.
For years a debate has raged over Columbus' historical legacy, with some arguing that a man who opened the Americas to European domination should not be celebrated.
“By focusing so much on Columbus you eliminate and erase the histories of the people who were here before him and I think that’s horrible,” Yale University senior Chris Rice said.
But many Italian-Americans argue that Columbus is a symbol of their ethnic pride.
“Well it means everything because actually if it wasn’t for Columbus we wouldn’t be here, so it's fundamental to us and for the next generation to celebrate this holiday and keep it a holiday in this country,” said Gennaro Sevino, a member of the Sons of Italy Valley Regional Lodge in Derby.
It's not the first time the debate has led to vandalism. Last month in New York vandals doused the hands of a Christopher Columbus statue in blood-red paint and scrawled the words "hate will not be tolerated." In August, a statue in Yonkers was beheaded.
New Haven resident Imani Williams took the middle ground, though she was disturbed to hear of the vandalism to the statue outside the window of her Wooster Square home.
“This is a historic statue just like the one in New York City. They should stay. Maybe some newer statues that don’t need to be there, maybe they can be removed. But the older statues, historic statues, they should stay,” Williams said.
Similar incidents have been reported over the years in cities across the country.
Those who spoke to NBC Connecticut tended to agree that the vandalism was wrong.
"I'm not OK with anybody vandalizing any property, I feel that's wrong," said Jersey City resident Tynesha Banks. "However, I can understand why people are against a statue of Christopher Columbus being up."
"It sucks that people actually have the audacity to do that and take away from a great town like us," said Destiny Rosado, of Middletown.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who represents New Haven as part of the 3rd District, chimed in on the incidents.
“I am proud of my Italian heritage. Christopher Columbus is part of the history of America. Honoring him is something I am proud to be a part of. Vandalism is unacceptable,” DeLauro said.
It's not clear if any of the incidents are connected. The penalty for this type of crime can be as many as five years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine. Anyone with information should contact local police.