GRANT PARK — After being condemned by aldermen and activists for the city’s handling of a protest at the Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park Friday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the actions of violent protesters “unacceptable” while urging those who “believe” they were were mistreated by police to file a complaint.
Around 7 p.m. Friday, hundreds of demonstrators attempted to bring down the Columbus statue near Columbus and Roosevelt roads by tying ropes around it and pulling.
Videos tweeted by multiple local reporters showed police officers on bikes attempting to surround the statue 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 used pepper spray on the crowd, estimated to be about 1,000 people, and some protesters were beaten with batons. Miracle Boyd, a CPS graduate and activist with GoodKids MadCity had her teeth knocked out by an officer in a confrontation caught on video.
Block Club Chicago photographer Colin Boyle was also assaulted by an officer while following police orders to leave the scene and holding up his press badge.
CBS Chicago journalist Marissa Parra said an officer used a baton to swat her phone out of her hand while she was reporting on the scene. WBEZ journalist Linda Lutton said her two daughters were pepper sprayed and had their bike, roller skates and bags taken by officers.
Police said 12 people were arrested and could face charges. They also said 18 officers were injured, with some being treated on the scene and others taken to area hospitals after some protesters hurled water bottles and other items at them.
On Saturday morning, a group of aldermen and state lawmakers slammed CPD and Lightfoot’s decision to use force to protect the statue.
“We unequivocally condemn Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s decision to send the Chicago police to beat, arrest, and terrorize the demonstrators and journalists gathered in Grant Park tonight,” their statement reads. “We have seen all too clearly this summer that police are not, can not, and will not quell the terrible and tragic violence in our neighborhoods. Instead, they use their batons and pepper spray to defend luxury retail shops and statues of genocidal figures.”
The statement was issued by Alds. Jeanette Taylor, Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez, Byron Sigcho Lopez, Carlos Ramirez Rosa, state Rep. Delia Ramirez, state Sen. Robert Peters and Democratic state representative nominee LaKesia Collins.
On Saturday afternoon, Lightfoot responded to the criticism on Twitter:
While she said she supports the rights of peaceful protesters, the “people in the crowd also threw fireworks and other incendiary devices at police, causing injury in several cases. These violent acts are unacceptable and put everyone at risk.”
She did not directly respond to the assault of a Block Club reporter or young activist Miracle Boyd, but said excessive force by police is “unacceptable.”
“If you believe you have been mistreated by the police, then I urge you to file a complaint through COPA [the Civilian Office of Police Accountability] or by dialing 311,” Lightfoot tweeted.
Protesters can file a complaint with COPA here.
Chief David Brown later said police “deeply respect” people’s right to peacefully protest. But they will not allow people to damage city or private property or while violent acts are committed and are in fact “obligated to act” in those instances.
“While last night’s protest started peacefully, a group of organized criminal agitators pelted fireworks, rocks, frozen water bottles and other projectiles at officers in Grant Park and attempted to criminally damage City property,” Brown tweeted. “…We do not want to engage in violent clashes with protesters, but when the law is being broken, our oath demands that we act to uphold the law. The rule of law has always been, and remains today the essence of policing and the foundation of our democracy.”
‘I would tear down that statue with my own two hands if I could’
Columbus has long been touted as the man who “discovered” America on Oct. 12, 1492 — even though it was already populated. That’s made him a hero among some Italian Americans. But critics have noted Columbus didn’t discover America and his actions led to mass genocide and crimes, including rape and torture, against Indigenous people.
Saturday morning, Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), who is Italian American, joined other aldermen and activists in calling for the removal of the Columbus statue from Grant Park, where it has stood since 1933.
They demanded the statue be removed.
Lightfoot has not agreed to the removal, but said in her statement her team has been “developing a plan to pursue that public conversation & to engage in a comprehensive review of our public icons to identify which should change, and where we need new monuments and icons to be erected to ensure our full, robust history is told.”
City officials previously covered the statute with plastic in an attempt to prevent spray painting, according to CBS Chicago. A protester scaled the covered statue Friday evening and others threw ropes to him in the attempt to topple it.
Statues commemorating Columbus and other 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.
Protestors have succeeded in tearing down, destroying or damaging Columbus statues in other cities, including Minneapolis and Boston.
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.
La Spata said glorifying Columbus is misguided.
“I would tear down that statue with my own two hands if I could,” he said.
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