Don’t burden taxpayers with security costs of returning Columbus statues to parks

It’s a bad time to devote resources to protecting statues when the city is criticized for not doing enough to protect people.

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Hundreds of protesters surround the Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park in 2020. They attempted to pull the statue down and many battled with Chicago Police.

Hundreds of protesters surround the Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park in 2020. They attempted to pull the statue down and many battled with Chicago Police.

|Alexander Gouletas/For the Sun-Times

Strolling past statues guarded around the clock doesn’t strike us as a relaxing way to enjoy the city’s great parks.

That’s one reason why it’s not a good idea to restore those controversial statues of Christopher Columbus to their former locations at Grant and Arrigo parks, from which they were removed two years ago to protect them against vandalism.

To be clear: We’re not condoning the assaults by protestors against police officers who were just doing their job protecting the statues. There’s no excuse for those assaults or for the vandalism itself.

Nor do we like the idea that individuals willing to attack cops, as they did in 2020 when protests against the statues took place in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, have the last word on where public art is displayed.

But common sense ought to prevail. It’s not a good time to devote resources to protecting statues when the city is criticized for not doing enough to protect people. Moreover, taxpayers already have enough of a financial burden (remember those underfunded pensions?) without digging deeper into their pockets to pay for the statues’ protection.

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On Wednesday, the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans said it wants the statues returned to their former locations by Columbus Day and to have them protected at city — meaning taxpayer — expense.

The recommendations in their draft also include cameras, motion detectors, 24-hour guards, a Plexiglas encasement and coatings on the statues to make them easier to clean. In addition, the report suggests keeping the public farther from the statues. All of this is more suggestive of the security at Fort Knox than a pleasant day enjoying the outdoors.

In this case, the better idea would be to give the statues to the people who want them and let them be displayed in private areas of their choice.

That’s what the city did with a statue memorializing police at Haymarket Square. The controversial statue was bombed twice and struck by a streetcar. It is now situated, without incident, in the courtyard of the Police Training Center on West Jackson Boulevard.

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The image of Columbus is important to many Italian Americans, who long suffered discrimination in employment and in other ways. Their concerns must be taken into account as the city reaches a final decision.

In April, an advisory committee recommended the two Columbus statues be permanently sidelined.

If the statues can’t be put back up in public places without extensive security, that sounds like good advice to us.

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