In a statement, Lightfoot said that the monuments — one in downtown Grant Park and the other in Arrigo Park in the city’s Little Italy neighborhood — were being “temporarily” removed in the interest of safety. Both monuments had been the scene of clashes between demonstrators and police, and in one case, protesters tried to forcibly pull down a monument, creating an unsafe situation.
Specifically, on July 17, protesters clashed with police at the monument in Grant Park. Police used batons to beat them back, while demonstrators reportedly threw fireworks, rocks, and other items at law enforcement. Similarly, protesters had tried to forcibly remove that memorial, creating a safety concern for the crowd.
“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 a statement.
According to The Chicago Tribune, Lightfoot had previously opposed removing the memorials of the Italian sailor, saying that it was “erasing history.”
Early Friday morning, crews showed up with heavy machinery to dismantle the downtown statue. A small crowd cheered, while passing cars honked their horns.
“This statue coming down is because of the effort of Black and Indigenous activists who know the true history of Columbus and what he represents,” said Stefan Cuevas-Caizaguano, who had come to watch the removal.
However, Pasquale Gianni of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans doesn’t see it that way.
“The Italian American community feels betrayed. [Lightfoot’s] Office is giving into a vocal and destructive minority. This is not how the Democratic process is supposed to work,” he said.
It remains unclear where the statues were taken or what will become of them.
Meanwhile, Lightfoot’s office also announced a broader review of “each of the monuments, memorials, and murals across Chicago’s communities,” with a view toward reevaluating them in the context of history.
Statues of Christopher Columbus have been taken down from other cities, large and small, across the U.S. in the wake of the George Floyd protests. St. Louis removed its own statue of the Genoan explorer, as has Columbus, Ohio, which was named for him, as previously reported by The Inquisitr. However, the Ohio city has not announced any plans to change its name.