Chicago Christopher Columbus Statue Protest Leads to Violent Clash With Police

A protest near Chicago's Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park turned violent Friday night. Hundreds of demonstrators hoped to topple the statue but were unsuccessful as many clashed with police officers. About 19 officers were injured, police said, and 2 people were arrested. They could "potentially face charges," including mob action, battery to a police officer and other felonies, police said, reports USA Today. On Saturday, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability began an investigation into alleged police misconduct after receiving complaints from posters.

Chicago police said protests threw items at officers, including rocks, fireworks, and frozen water bottles. At least four protesters were hurt, including 18-year-old activist Miracle Boyd, who said an officer knocked out one of her front teeth when she tried to record another protester being arrested. "The police officer came up to me, and he smacked the phone out of my hand, and it hit me in the mouth," she told NBC Chicago.

After videos and photos from the protest went viral Friday night, COPA, the civilian police oversight agency, said it is investigating the most serious complaints from protesters. "Residents of this city have a right to exercise their First Amendment rights," the agency said in a statement Saturday. "Complaints of misconduct of the Chicago Police Department that violate those rights or violate Department policy will be thoroughly investigated by our office."

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she supported demonstrators' right to peacefully protest, but condemned those who threw objects at police officers. She also called the reports of "excessive force" by some police officers "unacceptable." She later added, "It is my sincere hope that we can strike the right balance to ensure people can rightfully express themselves and their First Amendment rights, but to do so in a way that does not put anyone’s physical safety at risk."

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The "Black, Indigenous Solidarity Rally" was organized by over a dozen Chicago organizations who called for "the abolishment of police and the redistribution of funds to the people of Chicago." Organizers wrote on Facebook that the "knowledge and labor" of Black and Indigenous peoples have "been exploited for too long." Protesters tried to pull down the Columbus statue, but police tried to protect it. Some protesters tried to jump over a small stone wall surrounding the statue and police said objects were thrown at them. Protesters published videos that appear to show officers using batons and teargas to push them back. CBS Chicago journalist Marissa Parra also shared a video of a police officer batting her phone out of her hand.

The protests of police brutality and racial inequality inspired by the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and other Black people have led to debates on statues of historical figures. Protesters have pulled down statues of Confederate generals, as well as Columbus. Statues of Columbus have been removed or pulled down across the country. Even before the protests began, there has been a movement to have Columbus Day replaced with Indigenous Peoples' Day to recognize the death of Native Americans caused by European explorers.