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‘Monuments to white supremacy’ vs. the legacy of Italians: not all Chicago aldermen agree with statue removal

Most Chicago aldermen are praising Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s decision to remove two Columbus statues. But not all are on board for the permanent removal of the statues.

City municipal crews help guide the Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park as it is removed by a crane, Friday, July 24, 2020, in Chicago. A statue of Christopher Columbus that drew chaotic protests in Chicago was taken down early Friday amid a plan by President Donald Trump to dispatch federal agents to the city.
City crews help guide the Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park as it is removed by a crane Friday.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Most Chicago aldermen are praising Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s decision to remove Christopher Columbus statues from Grant Park and another on the Near West Side.

But not all are on board for the permanent removal of the statues.

Ald. Nick Sposato (38th), an Italian-American, said he believes the statues should continue to be “prominently displayed because of their historical significance of the Columbus legacy and symbol of the many contributions of Italians to our city and country.”

But the Northwest Side alderman said he supports the mayor’s decision out of public safety concerns.

“I support her [Lightfoot’s] decision to TEMPORARILY remove those statues from harm’s way, so as not to create harm’s way, so as not to create a distraction and divert police resources from the issues of lawlessness, anarchy and domestic terrorism facing our beloved city and nation,” Sposato said in a text message.

A week after activists tried and failed to pull down the statues — and violent clashes broke out between police and protesters — Lightfoot issued a statement early Friday 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.”

But Lightfoot said a formal process would soon follow to assess each monument, memorial and mural across Chicago.

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

Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) on Friday said he’s very saddened by the removal, and he questioned the overnight removal. He dubbed it “not the American way.”

“It’s because a bunch of people, a bunch of socialist cancel culture people cried about it that we removed it in the middle of the night,” Napolitano said. “In America, we do this by discussion.”

Napolitano is 100% Italian. His mother arrived from Italy when she was 9, and his father is a second generation Italian.

On Friday, five of the city’s progressive alderman in unison called the Columbus statues “monuments to white supremacy,” and they vowed to fight for their permanent removal.

“Chicago’s Christopher Columbus monuments have been removed — and will stay that way — because of the Indigenous, Black, and Brown Chicagoans that have been fighting for so long to make this happen,” Aldermen Rossana Rodriguez (33rd), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), Daniel La Spata (1st), Jeanette Taylor (20th), and Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) said in a statement.

“We thank the activists and organizers who put their bodies on the line to make this happen, and we commit to continue to work towards replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and dismantling white supremacy in all its forms,” the aldermen said.

North Side Ald. Matt Martin (47th), too, credited the work of organizers in getting the removal.

“I hope that the statue’s removal is made permanent, and that it’s replaced by a memorial that better reflects Chicago’s values,” Martin said.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), who heads the City Council’s public safety committee, declined to comment on the statue removals Friday.

The Columbus statues are the latest to come under fire as the nation grapples with calls to end racial injustice.

Lightfoot on Monday blamed a group of “vigilantes” for ruining what could have been a peaceful protest.

“You’re gonna see video that shows these people before they got to the Columbus statue kneeling down, dressing in all black with goggles, forming a phalanx with umbrellas and with shields around them and then pummeling police with projectiles,” Lightfoot said.

“Frozen water bottles, cans, other projectiles. There were a number of police officers that were injured as a result of that. That’s not peaceful protest. That’s anarchy. And we are going to put that down. We are actively investigating. And we will bring those people to justice.”