After clashes between police and protesters at the Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park last week, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot removed two statues of the European explorer overnight. Lightfoot ordered the statues in Grant Park and Arrigo Park to be "temporarily removed... until further notice." Lightfoot previously opposed removing the statues, and some Italian American leaders in the city did not support the decision.
The statues' removal came in response to the protests, which "became unsafe for both protesters and police, as well as efforts by individuals to independently pull the Grant Park statue down in an extremely dangerous manner," Lightfoot's office said in a statement Friday. "This step is about an effort to protect public safety and to preserve a safe space for an inclusive and democratic public dialogue about our city's symbols." Police resources "must be concentrated where they are most needed throughout the city, and particularly in our South and West Side communities," the statement read. In the next few days, Lightfoot and the city will soon announce a "formal process" to "assess" monuments throughout the city and "develop a framework for creating a public dialogue to determine how we elevate our city’s history and diversity."
Crews arrived at Grant Park at around 1 a.m. Friday morning and had the statue down within about two hours, reports the Chicago Tribune. The Arrigo Park statue, located in Chicago's Little Italy neighborhood, was removed a few hours later. It was not clear where either statue was taken.
Chicago aldermen were divided by Lightfoot's sudden decision. Ald. Nick Sposato, an Italian-American, told the Chicago Sun-Times he supported the decision to temporarily remove the statues "from harm’s way, so as not to create harm’s way, so as not to create a distraction and divert police resources from the issues of lawlessness, anarchy and domestic terrorism facing our beloved city and nation." Five progressive aldermen also issued a joint statement calling for the "monuments to white supremacy" to be removed permanently.
Other aldermen did not support the decision. "I have never been more disappointed, not only for the removal of a city statue but the cowardly fashion in which it was removed in the middle of the night," Ald. Anthony Napolitano wrote on Facebook. "The American way to remove the Christopher Columbus statue should have been a discussion, debate, and decision made by the City Council. The city didn’t just lose a statue on the sneak last night, it lost its sense of decency and American soul."
The decision to remove the statues came after clashes between police and protesters at the Grant Park statue on July 17, when protesters tried to remove the statue themselves. There were 20 complaints of police brutality filed against police filed after the demonstration. One activist, Miracle Boyd, reported that a police officer hit her in the face, knocking out one of her teeth.
The Columbus monuments have been a controversial issue for Lightfoot, who opposed removing them and rejected calls to rename Columbus Day, reports CBS Chicago. "There was a lot of harm that happened over the arc of the history of this country, beginning with the original sin of slavery, and it’s way past time that we have a reckoning on that," Lightfoot said last month. "But I think we also have to recognize that our history, both in this country and our city, is rich and diverse and the thing that we need to do is do what I think the organizers of the Columbus Day Parade have done, which is invite many people of different backgrounds, different perspectives, to participate in what is really a people’s celebration."