Sir Francis Drake statue in Larkspur removed ahead of planned protest

On Wednesday morning, the city of Larkspur temporarily removed its Sir Francis Drake statue in response to protesters planning to take it down themselves Thursday.

The city felt that it was unsafe for protesters to tear down the statue themselves, and that prompted the city to remove it, according to Larkspur City Manager Dan Schwarz.

"There are numerous posts on the internet calling for protesters to come Thursday in the evening with the intent to tear the statue down. It's a 30-foot metal statue with a lot of sharp sides. I didn't feel that that was a very safe situation if folks tried to pull it down. I didn't want anybody to get hurt," said Larkspur City Manager Dan Schwarz said.

Robbie Powelson, founder of the Tam Equity Campaign that has led the protest for the statue's removal, is thrilled by the news and says this is just the first step toward change.

"It took a lot of work. It's really inspiring that we can see the fruits of our labor. When I saw that it's being taken down my heart was overjoyed because this symbol of white supremacy and colonialism is finally gone," Powelson said. "Once we take away those symbols, we can start changing the narrative of Marin County to make it a more equitable place, give more affordable housing and defund the police department to put it into county-wide services."

Sir Francis Drake was a prominent slave owner during his lifetime, according to Powelson, and that is why he has led the campaign to remove the statue. 

According to Schwarz, the next steps with what to do with the statue will be determined in a series of sessions involving five Marin County jurisdictions, and in a City Council meeting Aug. 5.

"What's going to happen with the statue is something our community is discussing and we wanted to make sure the statue is preserved and not destroyed, so that's why I made the decision to take it down," Schwarz said.

Powelson feels strongly that the statue removal should not be temporary.

"It's a colonial symbol and we're trying to move past that and live in the present. I think that if they try and put it back up, that's just unacceptable," Powelson said.

Schwarz said a broader discussion will also happen to determine what to do about the name of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard that runs through Marin County.

"I will update the City Council at the Aug. 5 council meeting and lay out some different options. I think one of the things that's likely to happen now is we'll encourage our community to participate in the broader discussion that's going on in Marin about Sir Francis Drake. The county and the cities through which Sir Francis Drake Boulevard are jointly sponsoring a process to engage various stakeholders about Sir Francis Drake and his name and legacy in Marin," Schwarz said.

According to Schwarz, various groups from different sides of the debate will attend the learning sessions, including historians who have knowledge about Sir Francis Drake.

"It's going to have indigenous peoples from Marin, it's going to have historians who are familiar with Marin County and the decisions that were made to use Sir Francis Drake's name. We're hoping that we'll serve as the next step in a process to figure out what should happen with things like the statue," said Schwarz.

Powelson disagrees with the county's decision to further discuss the intent of the statue in any way.

"I think talking to historians is really a problematic way to look at it. It's not about the intention of the statue. The issue is that, for many people, that colonial statue is a symbol that's telling people of color they're not welcome in Marin County. Marin County is one of the most racially inequitable counties in California. You can't have a symbol of a slave owner anywhere," Powelson said.

The sessions, taking place in August, will include members from the five jurisdictions that the boulevard runs through. Those jurisdictions are the county, the city of Larkspur, and the towns of Corte Madera, San Anselmo, and Fairfax, according to Schwarz. 

Schwarz says there has been backlash from both sides of the debate, and some Marin locals have spoken up in support of the artist who made the statue and has done other artwork around the county.

Dennis Patton is the artist, and he's an artist familiar to a lot of people in Marin. He lives in Marin. He has numerous works in the county. There are a lot of folks who are supporters of public art and who are concerned about the statue coming down. They encourage us to think about other options, like to rename and rededicate the statue. Then there are other folks who were comfortable with the statue as it is," Schwarz said.

Powelson said the work of the Tam Equity Campaign and others jumpstarted June 17 at their protest in Larkspur to remove the statue.

"We blew the lid off of this on June 17 with our major protest around the statue. We campaigned, we showed up to City Council meetings. There was an event that was being organized Thursday by the community at large [to take it down]. But that doesn't matter now," Powelson said.

Powelson and the Tam Equity Campaign will now focus efforts toward reallocating county funding in Marin for social services as well as the renaming of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.

"The renaming of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard is still in process. We're waiting for Sir Francis Drake High School as well. We're talking about not just changing the name, but 'how do we defund local police departments and reduce the amount of police violence in our communities? How do we make Marin County more equitable?' " Powelson said.

Powelson views the removal of the statue as just one victory toward racial justice in Marin County.

"I'm overjoyed. When you put in the work, good things come. We're going to take this momentum into other stuff we're doing like fighting police violence against people who are unhoused in Marin County. Now that we got this going, the next step is change, more change. We can do it," Powelson said.