Attempt to topple Christopher Columbus statue in Chicago’s Grant Park injures 18 police officers


About 1,000 people swarmed the Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park on Friday evening in an attempt to topple it after a march turned tense and chaotic when some people began throwing fireworks and cans at the police, who in turn struck members of the crowd with batons.

Following a rally in support of Black and Indigenous people, hundreds of protesters marched south on Columbus Drive shortly after 7 p.m. Then a person shouted that some Chicago police units, whom they had been trying to separate the crowd from by using bike-wielding citizen “marshals,” had left to protect the statue of the controversial historical figure.

Dozens of people in the crowd who were clad in all-black clothing rushed the statue, surrounding the short stone wall that circled it. Some began throwing objects, such as cans and fireworks, at the officers. A few people tried to climb over the wall and were met with officers smacking their batons at them.

“This is not the way! … We don’t want them to shoot us,” a man shouted to the group throwing items. He was told by someone in the crowd to back off.

Soon, the police were pushed back, and dozens of people climbed over the wall, wading through the thinning smoke from earlier fireworks and other incendiary devices. Someone scaled the statue and caught a rope that was tossed up from the crowd, beginning about a half-hour-long attempt to yank down the statue.

At one point, more than a dozen demonstrators were holding onto the rope as the crowd cheered on, “Columbus was a murderer. Columbus was a thief.”

By 7:40 p.m., police reinforcements had arrived at the scene, leading to a standoff in front of the statue. They were joined later by more officers, who soon released an aerosol that stung the eyes of the crowd and led to some coughing in tears. Police forced out those inside the wall surrounding the statue and circled the perimeter.

As officers moved down the hill, they pushed aside the bike-wielding protesters trying to stop them, sometimes whipping out batons or shoving the bicycles at them. The standoff shifted to north of the statue, as the crowd, still out-numbering the cops, began clapping in unison despite having a few hundred people leave by that point.

A heavy influx of police officers around the area pushed protesters away from the statue by 8:30 p.m., according to a livestream from WBBM-Ch.2.

At least five civilians and four police officers were taken into ambulances and hospitalized from the area, Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said. Some officers showed up at hospitals on their own.

Though the statue remained standing by the time the crowd left, it and the surrounding wall were sheathed in overlapping anti-police graffiti messages.

The following video covers both a Chicago attempt to remove a statue of Christopher Columbus and the Oregon attempt to force federal officers out of Portland.

The Columbus statues in Grant Park and the city’s Little Italy neighborhood have been the source of recent controversy and targets for vandalism. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said she doesn’t want them taken down, but instead used to help educate people about “the full history” of the U.S.

ayin@chicagotribune.com

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