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Christopher Columbus statue taken down hours after Lightfoot ordered its removal

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) told the Chicago Sun-Times late Thursday that the mayor made “a unilateral decision” to take that statue down along with another in Arrigo Park on the Near West Side.

The statue of Christopher Columbus in Grant Park was removed about 3 a.m. July 24, 2020.
The statue of Christopher Columbus in Grant Park was removed about 3 a.m. July 24, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The controversial Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park was taken down under cover of darkness early Friday, hours after Mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered its removal.

Two cranes pulled up to the statue just before 2 a.m. Friday, after protesters and supporters of the statue argued and yelled at each other. Supporters included John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7.

The decision to remove the statue came after violent clashes between police and protesters broke out last week when activists tried but failed to take it down.

“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, a resident watching the removal.

The monument was removed about 3 a.m. Crews also removed another statue of the Italian explorer in Arrigo Park on the Near West Side.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a statement Friday morning saying the statues were removed until further notice “in response to demonstrations that became unsafe for both protesters and police, as well as efforts by individuals to independently pull the Grant Park statue down in an extremely dangerous manner.”

The mayor said a formal process will soon be announced to assess each monument, memorial and mural across the city.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) told the Chicago Sun-Times late Thursday that Lightfoot made “a unilateral decision” to remove the statues.

The Chicago Tribune first reported Lightfoot’s decision Thursday night.

After the news broke, more than 1,000 protesters who were rallying near Lightfoot’s Logan Square home rejoiced. Soon after, an organizer led the crowd in a celebratory chant.

“Thank you for the statue, now defund CPD,” the crowd bellowed.

Catanzara showed up at the park after hearing the statue was set to be removed. Catanzara has recently feuded with Lightfoot after he wrote a letter to President Donald Trump pleading for federal help to address the city’s surging gun violence.

“I’m sick of the mayor thinking she can do whatever she wants to do,” said Catanzara, who is of Italian descent. “She’s not a dictator. She’s a coward that she wanted to do this in the middle of the night when nobody was paying attention after she said she wasn’t going to take the statue down.”

The Columbus statue has come under increased scrutiny amid the nationwide reckoning over racial injustice.

Last week, while officers guarded the statue, some protesters lobbed firecrackers, frozen water bottles and other projectiles at police and hid themselves behind umbrellas. Amid the chaos, officers swung batons and used pepper spray to quell the crowd.

Police later reported that 12 people were arrested and 18 others were hurt during the incident. On Monday, Chicago Police Supt. David Brown said 49 officers were injured, with 18 requiring hospitalization.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which investigates allegations of police misconduct, reported Sunday that the agency had received over 20 complaints related to the protest.

Though Lightfoot has called reports of excessive force “unacceptable” and vowed they would be investigated, she also cast blame on a small group of “vigilantes” who she said “came for a fight.” On Monday, she faulted that contingent for “hijacking” the demonstration and throwing frozen water bottles and other objects at officers.

“That’s not peaceful protest,” she said. “That’s anarchy.”

Contributing: Sam Kelly, Carly Behm, Sam Charles, Fran Spielman