Italian church is vandalized with anti-colonization graffiti. Police are investigating it as a hate crime

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St. Peter's Italian Church was vandalized as seen on Monday morning, October 11, 2021.
St. Peter's Italian Catholic Church on the edge of Chinatown in L.A. was vandalized Monday morning. (Hayley Smith / Los Angeles Times)

St. Peter’s Italian Catholic Church was marred with anti-colonial slogans on Monday in an act of vandalism that police are investigating as a hate crime.

By noon, a small crowd had gathered at the church on the edge of Chinatown, where detectives said the vandalism appeared to be linked to the day’s holidays, which included Indigenous Peoples Day and the former Columbus Day.

A banner resting on the church's front steps read "STOP COLONIZING OUR LAND," while graffiti on the sidewalk spelled out phrases including "Land Back," "USA" and "Stolen Land."

Explosions of red paint dotted the steps and front facade, including a delicate gold-specked mosaic above the doors.

The church on North Broadway was established in 1904 and holds Masses in English, Spanish and Italian.

Det. Suzanne Reed with the Los Angeles Police Department's major crimes division said the incident was being investigated as a hate crime.

Arturo Martinez said he first spotted the red paint around 8:15 a.m. on his way in to his daughter's clothing shop nearby. He believed it happened sometime after 6 a.m. because a neighbor did not see signs of vandalism earlier.

"I think it's all related to Columbus Day," Martinez said, noting that St. Peter's is an Italian church. "We know the history of Columbus, so they have taken a direct hit to Italy and what Columbus represents."

Christopher Columbus was Italian, but his famous voyages were sponsored by Spain.

The Los Angeles City Council and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in 2017 voted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day in recognition of the harm and injustice suffered by America's native people at the hands of Columbus and other colonial settlers.

"This gesture of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day is a very small step in apologizing and in making amends," Councilman Mike Bonin said at the time.

On Monday, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced plans to rename Father Serra Park in downtown Los Angeles — one of several policy initiatives intended to right historical wrongs and rectify the city’s relationship with its Indigenous people.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has been working closely with several of L.A.'s Indigenous communities to acknowledge the church's role in the colonization of California and to "heal the wounds of the past through dialogue and understanding," spokeswoman Carolina Guevara said.

"As a community of faith, we offer our prayers for those who felt compelled to express their concerns in this way," Guevara said. "We also pray for the parish community as they work to clean up the damage."

Church officials noted that it was too soon to link the vandalism to any group or person. Officer Jeff Lee of the LAPD said no suspects had yet been identified.

It was not the first act of vandalism against the L.A. Archdiocese. Last year, the 250-year-old San Gabriel Mission was gutted by an arsonist, although the suspect's motive was unclear.

Councilman Joe Buscaino, who is Italian American, took to Facebook Monday to condemn the incident and call for the prosecution of the perpetrator.

"Today should be about celebrating our diversity and contributions to society, without the need for hatred or violence," said Buscaino, who is running for mayor. "We all need to work together, not breed division and hate with one another."

Martinez said he believes the business next to his daughter's shop has a security camera, which he hopes might help find the vandals. He said he could not recall any similar incidents in the neighborhood.

"There's a right way to make a protest, and this is not it, obviously," he added.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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