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[whitespace] Statue Morally Lost: 'Columbus was not just geographically lost. He was morally lost, too,' says local resident James Cosner.


Smash Talk

Last week, James Cosner, the local man who took a sledgehammer to the statue of Christopher Columbus at San Jose City Hall on March 8, was released from San Jose County Jail when his girlfriend posted $20,000 bail.

"So, did you ask him if his girlfriend enjoys it, when he goes round smashing things?" someone wondered. Nüz, who had just returned from interviewing Cosner, had to admit it never occurred to us to pop such a question. Why? Because Cosner, who cites Jesus, Malcolm X and Noam Chomsky as his heroes, came across as a gentle, religious and politically active man.

"I surrender to God's will, I do whatever God commands me," Cosner told Nüz. "If you knew the history of Christopher Columbus from an indigenous person's point of view, you'd know that having a statue of him in a public place is like having a statue of Hitler in Jerusalem."

But why a sledgehammer?

"I didn't want anybody to get hurt. There were no chips, no blood--just a smashed marble statue that has no feelings, no veins and no life. But in 15 minutes, I got thousands of people to think much more profoundly about the reality that Columbus was the founding father of the genocide of the indigenous tribes," says Cosner, who has a Swedish father and a Mexican mother.

Genocide wasn't the only thing Cosner got people thinking about. Police booked Cosner for vandalism with bail set at $4,000. But then members of an Italian-American organization complained, and Cosner found himself facing a hate-crime enhancement, with bail raised to $50,000--an amount usually reserved for rapists and murderers, according to Cosner's lawyer, Larry Hildes. The amount was reduced to $20,000.

If convicted of both charges, Cosner, who was described by the San Jose Mercury News as a "Ben Lomond man with a criminal history of civil disobedience," could face over six years in prison.

(Note to the Merc: Hammer-wielding disobedience is often considered a prerequisite for living in Ben Lomond, but actually Cosner lives in Aptos.)

"I'm not Rambo. What I did was an act of courage and of consciousness, an act of political and spiritual resistance to a wicked system," says Cosner, adding that his criminal record consists of three cases of resisting arrest during protests and one of contempt of court.

Though San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales has pledged "to repair the damage as much as possible and restore the statue of Christopher Columbus to its place of honor in our city," Cosner is asking people to call the mayor and tell him that a statue of Christopher Columbus does not belong in San Jose. "A man should not be prosecuted for bringing that fact to our attention. Columbus was not just geographically lost. He was morally lost, too, " Cosner says.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma-based United Native America is asking Congress to change Columbus Day to Native American Day. Says UNA founder Mike Graham, "Columbus is no hero to the Native American community. We're asking the Italian community to celebrate their heritage--and not Columbus, who committed genocide. It's time for Italians to respect Native Americans in respect to the true history of Columbus."

Mary Poppins He's Not

People knew something was wrong a few weeks ago when Pacific Avenue fixture Robert Steffen (a.k.a. "Umbrella Man" (Nüz 7/12/00) stopped saying, "Have a nice day!" But Santa Cruisers really freaked when suddenly he was gone from his bench in front of Bookshop Santa Cruz, which for the last 17 months has held Steffen and his garbage bag-adorned umbrella. Rumors flew: he was in jail, had flown to Chicago to be on Jerry Springer or was dead.

Troubled Nüz investigated and found Steffen in the El Dorado Center, a sub-acute facility for the dually diagnosed mentally ill.

"I decided I needed some help," Steffen told Nüz by phone. Feeling depressed "because I wasn't getting anywhere," Steffen asked a downtown host who was passing by his bench to call the cops, who gave him a ride to Dominican Hospital, which transferred him to the El Dorado Center.

"During the time I sat on the mall," Steffen said, "I isolated myself so much from society that I wasn't communicating well with people in general. When people see a dissolute individual, it's hard for them to connect with that individual. It's difficult for someone [the dissolute individual] in that situation to make human contact, or start an organization."

Last November, Steffen ran for president on his own Black Sheep Party ticket. In the future, he hopes to build up the Black Sheep Party and solicit donations.

Steffen said that after a few weeks in therapy he's already getting to be more social. "Something I obviously need to be if I'm going to get a political party together," he said. "Plus, I haven't had a date in who knows how long."

Steffen is already sounding more like a politician. When asked for a statement, he replied, "I hope to see the umbrella which protected me against the weather extend to protect the rights of all Americans," then added that he would also like to apologize. "I didn't mean to worry people."

Cause for Complaint

Shawn Duncan, (Nüz 1/24/01), the cyclist hit by pickup driver Joe Gutierrez during an anti-George Bush demonstration, has been told by Assistant District Attorney Toni Allen that she doesn't believe that there is just cause to prosecute for reckless driving.

Duncan and the bicycle advocacy group People Power had already filed a complaint with the Citizen's Police Review Board, citing "a biased and unprofessional police report, failure to appraise the victim of his rights, failure to charge a road-raged driver with reckless driving, failure to have a police presence at an obvious location and the creation of public lack of faith in the police with regard to bicycle and pedestrian safety."

Presumably Allen based her decision on the SCPD's report, which Duncan says " had already been revised, but still discredits me, characterizes witnesses as a mob, and is missing evidence and testimony."

Says Micah Posner, chair of People Power, "We filed a complaint because cyclists deserve to be protected by the police."

Meanwhile, Beach Flats resident Cristina Tafoya (Nüz 2/14/01) has been ordered to pay $80 for a failure to appear but was found not guilty of being in park after hours. Tafoya also filed a complaint with CPRB, citing "a procedure that was not properly followed," "a negative attitude regarding the attitude, behavior or conduct of city employees and "a possible violation of law."

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From the March 28-April 4, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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