GRANT PARK — A protest in support of Black and Indigenous people Friday night led to clashes with Chicago Police as demonstrators tried to topple a statue of Christopher Columbus in Grant Park.
Protesters tied ropes around the towering statue and tried to tear it down before being dispersed by police, who used pepper spray on the crowd, estimated to be about 1,000 people.
Police said 12 people were arrested and could face charges. They also reported 18 officers were injured, with some being treated on the scene and others taken to area hospitals.
The protest, organized by Black Youth Project 100, Black Lives Matter Chicago, Chi-Nations Youth Council, LetUsBreathe Collective and others, started at Buckingham Fountain. The group chanted and marched down Columbus Avenue.
Demonstrators approached the statue near Columbus and Roosevelt Road, leading to tense physical confrontations between police and protesters.
Videos tweeted by multiple local reporters showed police officers on bikes attempting to surround the statute and some in the crowd throwing objects at the officers and setting off fireworks. Some organizers with megaphones shouted at protesters to stop and remain peaceful.
Police and protesters on bikes also could be seen shoving each other.
Later, some protesters succeeded in getting past police to approach the statue, tied ropes around it and formed a human chain to try to topple it.
Minutes later, more police converged on the area, surrounded the statue again and sprayed pepper spray to force demonstrators back across Columbus Drive. Videos show protesters coughing as they leave the area.
City officials previously covered the statute with plastic in an attempt to prevent spray painting, according to CBS Chicago.
Statues commemorating Columbus and other famous figures in U.S. history have been the focus of much recent activism around systemic racism and violence against marginalized communities. Some are pushing for the removal of these monuments, saying they celebrate centuries of violence against Native American and Black people.
Others, including local officials, have opposed removing statues of Columbus, saying he remains an important figure in Italian-American heritage. Italian Americans also pushed back when the Chicago Board of Education replaced Columbus Day as an official Chicago Public Schools holiday in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Protestors have succeeded in tearing down, destroying or damaging Columbus statues in other cities, including Minneapolis and Boston.
The Grant Park statue, sculpted by Carl Brioschi, was erected in 1933 as part of the city’s celebration of A Century of Progress, the city’s second World’s Fair.
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