CHICAGO: Protesters trying to topple a Christopher Columbus statue in downtown Chicago’s Grant Park clashed with police who used batons to beat people and made at least a dozen arrests after they say protesters targeted them with fireworks, rocks and other items.
The clash Friday evening unfolded after at least 1,000 people tried to swarm the statue in a failed attempt to topple it following a rally in support of Black and Indigenous people.
Police said 18 officers were injured and at least 12 people were arrested during the clash. Four protesters were also hurt during the confrontation, which led local elected officials and activists to condemn the officers’ tactics.
“We unequivocally condemn Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s decision to send the Chicago police to beat, arrest, and terrorize the demonstrators and journalists gathered in Grant Park tonight,” a group of elected officials said in a statement released late Friday.
Local news site Block Club Chicago reported that one protester, an 18-year-old woman, had several of her front teeth knocked out when an officer punched her. It also shared a video of that assault and a photo of the woman’s bloodied mouth and missing teeth. It identified her as Miracle Boyd, a member of the anti-gun violence group GoodKids MadCity.
The police department said in a statement that officers assembled in the park as the protesters converged there and were “providing security and protecting their First Amendment right to peacefully assemble.”
It said that as demonstrators approached the statue “some members of the crowd turned on the police and used the protest to attack officers with fireworks, rocks, frozen bottles, and other objects.” Amika Tendaji, an organizer for the protest, during which artists tagged the statue with slogans including “Decolonize Chicago” and “Black Lives Matter,” decried the officers’ use of force to protect a statue.
“I think the people of Chicago and the world have proven that they are over police brutalising people,” she said. “They’re over police murder, they’re over police terrorism, so the people are going to keep fighting.”
The Columbus statue in Grant Park and another in the city’s Little Italy neighbourhood were also vandalised last month.
Protesters across the county have called for the removal of statues of Columbus, saying that the Italian explorer is responsible for the genocide and exploitation of native peoples in the Americas.
Statues of Columbus have also been toppled or vandalised in cities such as Miami; Richmond, Virginia; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Boston, where one was decapitated.