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Activists, officials slam Chicago police for alleged brutality in Columbus statue standoff

One activist was left with her teeth knocked out when a police officer punched her in a video-recorded encounter. Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the reports of excessive force — and the actions of some protesters — both “unacceptable.”

Chicago police and protesters face off in Grant Park after protesters attempted to topple a Christopher Columbus Statue located at Roosevelt and Columbus on Friday.
Chicago police and protesters face off in Grant Park after protesters attempted to topple a Christopher Columbus Statue located at Roosevelt and Columbus on Friday.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

After an evening of mayhem between Chicago police and protesters who tried to tear down the Grant Park statue of Christopher Columbus, a video surfaced on social media showing an officer punching an 18-year-old activist in the mouth, knocking out some of her teeth.

The violent confrontation that injured Miracle Boyd, an organizer with the group Good Kids Mad City, was one of many dustups that several progressive officials pointed to on Saturday as the latest cases for defunding the city police department.

The video shows an officer hit Boyd in the face with his left arm as she appears to back away.

Warning: Graphic content and language.

Boyd had recently graduated from high school and was offered an internship in the office of state Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago.

“She’s someone who fights every day for gun violence prevention, who fights for a safe community,” Peters said a day after the chaos near Roosevelt Road and Columbus Drive. “And what did she face? Abuse.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said the incident should be investigated and properly handled.

“Ms. Boyd was badly injured by an officer — an inexcusable action for someone sworn to maintain public safety,” Preckwinkle said.

Several journalists also reported being roughed up by officers during the Friday standoff that lasted several hours before police dispersed the crowd.

Activist Miracle Boyd, pictured after a Chicago police officer hit her at a Grant Park protest July 17.
Activist Miracle Boyd, pictured after a Chicago police officer hit her at a Grant Park protest July 17.
Provided by state Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement there were “several” reports of excessive force by the police, which she called “unacceptable.”

“I have spoken to the director of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, and she has assured me that COPA stands ready to address these complaints and will ensure that each of these is dealt with and investigated,” Lightfoot said. “We will not spare any resources to do so.”

But the mayor also castigated some protesters who she said came with frozen water bottles, rocks, bottles and cans to throw at officers.

“People in the crowd also threw fireworks and other incendiary devices at police, causing injury in several cases,” Lightfoot said. “These violent acts are unacceptable and put everyone at risk.”

Lightfoot said her office is planning “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.”

Police said 12 arrests were made and 18 officers were hurt.

Six elected officials signed a statement condemning what they deemed “Lightfoot’s decision to send the Chicago police to beat, arrest, and terrorize the demonstrators and journalists gathered in Grant Park.”

Chicago police are armed with batons and pepper spray near the Columbus statue in Grant Park on Friday.
Chicago police are armed with batons and pepper spray near the Columbus statue in Grant Park on Friday.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) was among those who called for the firing of the officer who hit Boyd.

“Today, we made a commitment here as public officials to take to the City Council a fight like never before,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “For police accountability, to defund police departments so that we can fund the critical services that we need in the city of Chicago.”

Sigcho-Lopez and Peters signed the statement along with Alds. Jeanette Taylor (20th), Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and state Rep. Delia Ramirez.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois also slammed the police response.

“Batons, physical force, and chemical sprays were used indiscriminately — against everyone, including those who wished to express their opposition to a statue at that location, legal observers, and journalists reporting from the scene,” Illinois ACLU executive director Colleen Connell said. “This sort of violence cannot be repeated. More protests will occur this summer — some likely this weekend. The police department must order officers to use restraint and follow rules on use of force. And the city should announce today that it will not use chemicals on crowds going forward.”

The protest started about 4:30 p.m. Friday near Buckingham Fountain, heading south in the park, where some protesters pulled on ropes attached to the statue. Police tussled with demonstrators until they cleared the scene by about 8:15 p.m., with the statue extensively spray painted — but still standing.

Police walk around the Christopher Columbus statue at Roosevelt and Columbus Drive, after protesters attempted to topple it on Friday.
Police walk around the Christopher Columbus statue at Roosevelt and Columbus Drive, after protesters attempted to topple it on Friday.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Statues of Columbus and other historical figures with racist origins have come under assault amid a wave of nationwide protests in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.

Columbus is still revered by many Italian Americans in Chicago, but he also is criticized for his treatment of the indigenous people he found when he arrived to North America.

Last month, the statue in Grant Park and another in the Little Italy neighborhood were both vandalized.

Black Lives Matter Chicago organizer Aislinn Pulley called the statue “the narration of the history of genocide in this country.

“And that’s more important than people’s actual lives?” Pulley said alongside elected officials near the statue Saturday morning. “That is a demonstration of the upside down priorities of the city… Our lives are more important than that genocidal statue.”

Supporters organized an online campaign to cover Boyd’s medical costs, raising more than $50,000 within a few hours.

Late Saturday, a few hundred people gathered near Lightfoot’s Logan Square home to protest how police handled the demonstration in Grant Park the night before.

The group engaged in a tense standoff with officers for several hours, but as of 11 p.m., no arrests had been made, police said.