CHICAGO (WGN/AP) — Two statues of Christopher Columbus that stood in Chicago parks were taken down early Friday at the direction of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a week after protesters trying to topple one of the monuments to the Italian explorer clashed with police.
Crews used a large crane to remove the statue in downtown Chicago’s Grant Park from its pedestal. A small crowd cheered and passing cars honked as the statue came down about 3 a.m. The second statue was removed about 5:30 a.m. from Arrigo Park in Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood.
In a statement issued after the statues were taken down, the mayor’s office said they were being “temporarily removed … until further notice.” It said the removals were “in response to demonstrations that 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.”
“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,” the mayor’s office said in the statement, which said the statues were removed following “consultation with various stakeholders.”
The statues’ removal came after hundreds of protesters gathered Thursday night near Lightfoot’s home to call for defunding the Chicago Police Department. The crowd cheered when an activist used a megaphone to inform them that Lightfoot would be removing the Grant Park statue.
Plans to remove the Grant Park statue were first reported Thursday night by the Chicago Tribune and the removal followed hours of vocal confrontations between opponents and supporters of the statue. On July 17, protesters had clashed with police, who used batons to beat people and made arrests after they say protesters targeted them with fireworks, rocks and other items.
“Until you really … deal with the disinvestment in our communities, in the surrounding area, that this statute is representing then, like I say, that’s just a symbol. We need the substance,” Tyronne Muhammad, a resident who supports the statues’ removal, told WGN.
Both the Grant Park and Arrigo Park statues were vandalized last month. Statues of Columbus have also been toppled or vandalized in other U.S. cities as protesters have called for the removal of statues of Columbus, saying that he is responsible for the genocide and exploitation of native peoples in the Americas.
Pasquale Gianni of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans said the mayor had told him before their removal that both statues would be moved and temporarily housed elsewhere for public safety reasons.
Lightfoot and the city planned to announce a process “to assess each of the monuments, memorials, and murals across Chicago’s communities, and develop a framework for creating a public dialogue to determine how we elevate our city’s history and diversity,” the mayor’s office added in its statement.
The removals come amid a plan by President Donald Trump to dispatch federal law enforcement agents to the city to respond to gun violence, prompting worries that the surge will inhibit residents’ ability to hold demonstrations. A collection of activist groups had filed suit Thursday, seeking to block federal agents to combat violent crime from interfering in or policing protests.
State officials in Oregon had sued for similar requests following the arrival of federal law enforcement due to nearly two months of protests in Portland since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The following statement was released from Mayor Lightfoot’s office regarding the Columbus statues:
The City of Chicago—at Mayor Lightfoot’s direction—has temporarily removed the Christopher Columbus statues in Grant Park and Arrigo Park until further notice. This action was taken after consultation with various stakeholders. It comes in response to demonstrations that 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. 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. In addition, our public safety resources must be concentrated where they are most needed throughout the city, and particularly in our South and West Side communities.MAYOR LIGHTFOOT’S PRESS OFFICE
Over the coming days, Mayor Lightfoot and the City will be announcing a formal process to assess each of the monuments, memorials, and murals across Chicago’s communities, and develop a framework for creating a public dialogue to determine how we elevate our city’s history and diversity. As the Mayor has stated previously, this is not about a single statue or mural, but how we create a platform to channel our city’s dynamic civic energy to collaboratively, purposefully and peacefully reflect our values as Chicagoans and uplift the stories of all of our diverse city’s residents, particularly when it comes to the permanent memorialization of our shared heritage.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.