By Madeline Buckley
Activists and elected officials on Saturday morning called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to take down the Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park, after confrontations Friday night between police and protesters resulted in injuries to officers and protesters and at least 12 arrests.
The officials also condemned what they said were violent tactics on the part of police officers to quell the protest, including one instance where they said an officer hit an 18-year-old woman, knocking her teeth out.
“That statue has to be taken down,” said Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, speaking at a news conference Saturday morning in front of the statue. “When you have a statue in a public square, you’re saying that is someone who should be celebrated.”
Lightfoot responded with a statement on Saturday afternoon, writing that she supports peaceful protest but that “a portion of the protesters turned violent.” Lightfoot, who last month said she opposed the removal of Columbus statues in the city, also said Saturday her team has been developing a plan for a “comprehensive review of our public icons.”
Lightfoot said there were “several reports of excessive force by the police.” She called them “unacceptable” and said she has spoken to the director of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which will investigate the complaints.
At least 1,000 people gathered around the statue Friday after a rally in support of Black and Indigenous people, with some trying to topple the controversial statue.
Columbus has been condemned by activists around the country who point to the Italian explorer’s mistreatment of indigenous people after he landed in the Americas in 1492.
The protest began peacefully, with hundreds marching south on Columbus Drive. Later, protesters were alerted that some police units had left to protect the statue, and crowds swarmed the area around the statue, resulting in an increasingly chaotic scene.
Dozens rushed at the statue, and some threw fireworks, rocks, frozen bottles and other objects at officers. Someone scaled the statue and caught a rope that was tossed up from the crowd, beginning an unsuccessful attempt to topple the statue.
A heavy police presence began pushing the crowd away from the statue, clashing with protesters, sometimes using batons or an aerosol spray.
A group of city and state officials released a statement late Friday that referenced reports on social media of police using pepper spray and other aggressive actions against protesters and journalists.
“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,” read the statement, released late Friday.
It was signed by Ramirez-Rosa, Aldermen Jeanette Taylor, Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez and Byron Sigcho Lopez, state Rep. Delia Ramirez, Illinois House Democratic nominee Lakesia Collins and state Sen. Robert Peters. Later, more officials added their names, including Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, Alderman Daniel La Spata, state Sen. Celina Villanueva and state Rep. Theresa Mah.
The officials wrote in the statement that they are ready to “work to defund the Chicago Police Department immediately.”
The ACLU of Illinois also weighed in on Saturday, calling on Lightfoot and the police department to investigate complaints of excessive force and “provide a full, public accounting” about the police action taken on Friday.
“It is most disturbing that police thought violence against protestors, legal observers, and journalists was a measured reaction to protect a statue,” Colleen Connell, executive director of ACLU of Illinois, said in a statement.
Lightfoot, though, denounced the actions of some of the participants who threw incendiary material and other items at police officers.
“These violent acts are unacceptable and put everyone at risk,” she said in a statement.
At Saturday’s news conference, activists and officials criticized the use of pepper spray and said an officer knocked the teeth out of an 18-year-old protester who has been active in working to reduce violence in city neighborhoods.
“They pepper-sprayed until the air was thick with tear gas,” said Amika Tendaji, with Black Lives Matter Chicago.
State Sen. Peters said 18-year-old Miracle Boyd, to whom he had offered an internship last week because of her violence prevention work, was hit in the face by an officer, which knocked some of her teeth out.
An anti-violence organization, GoodKids MadCity, shared a photo of Boyd on social media that shows the teen with a cut lip and missing teeth. The organization also posted a video that appears to show an officer hitting a protester.
“(She) fights every day for gun violence prevention,” Peters said. “And what does she get? Abuse.”
The police department did not immediately respond to questions about the teenager.
The department said in a statement that protesters threw fireworks, rocks, frozen bottles and other objects at officers. About 18 officers were injured, with some taken to area hospitals.
At least five civilians were hospitalized from the area, Chicago Fire Department officials said.
Police arrested 12 people who could face charges of “Battery to a Police Officer, Mob Action, and/or other felonies,” according to the department.
On Saturday morning, the statue remained covered and guarded by a fence, Park District vehicles and at least one police vehicle.
Ramirez-Rosa criticized the city for spending money “protecting this statue.”
La Spata, alderman of the 1st Ward, spoke out Saturday, saying he is part of a new generation of “Italian Americans trying to fight back.”
“I would tear down that statue with my own two hands if I could,” he said.
Lightfoot has previously said she doesn’t want the city’s Columbus statues taken down, but instead used to help educate people about “the full history” of the U.S.
In Saturday’s statement, Lightfoot said that details for the plan to review public statues will be forthcoming.
“For several weeks, my team has been working to develop a plan to pursue that public conversation, and 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 the full, robust history of our city is told,” she said.
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