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…And Justice for Some


By Pieter Vree | November 2023
Pieter Vree is Editor of the NOR.

Salvatore Cordileone was incensed. As archbishop of San Francisco, he had every right to be. Justice had been miscarried.

To take you back: It was fall 2020, and our nation was experiencing a series of very public convulsions. It was a time of unevenly enforced COVID-19 lockdowns, spikes in mental-health problems, and violent (or “mostly peaceful,” depending on your political persuasion) riots in the wake of the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police officers.

In those crazy days, any potential symbol of “racism” — whether or not that assessment was historically accurate — was squarely in the crosshairs of the angry mob.

On Columbus Day 2020, also known as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in California, five “activists” (for lack of a better term) desecrated a statue of St. Junípero Serra that stood on the grounds of Mission San Rafael in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. First, they smeared it with red paint. Then, evidently not satisfied with that symbolism, they decided to topple it, leaving only the saint’s mangled feet on the stained-red pedestal.

Their actions were part of a series of attacks on monuments to St. Junípero throughout the Golden State around that time. His statues were toppled in Golden Gate Park (San Francisco), Capitol Park (Sacramento), and the eponymous Serra Park (Los Angeles). Meanwhile, municipalities and school districts were rebranding buildings named after him and removing his statues from their grounds in an attempt to get ahead of the vandalism. The anger animating the destruction was not necessarily directed at St. Junípero himself but at what he allegedly represented in the public’s eye: violence toward and abuse of Native Americans in the name of “Manifest Destiny.” As Serra’s name is synonymous with the California mission system, he became the figurehead for these abuses.

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