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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot takes down Christopher Columbus statues in the dead of night

Last month, the Chicago mayor defended keeping Columbus statues up

Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) ordered statues of Christopher Columbus to be removed in the middle of the night following clashes between protesters and police officers guarding the monuments last week.

Crews arrived at Grant Park around 1 a.m. on Friday and started removing the Christopher Columbus statue that was created by Italian sculptor Carlo Brioschi and installed in 1933. By 3 a.m., the statue of the Italian explorer had been taken down.

The Windy City's Italian-American community raised funds and donated the Columbus statue to Chicago for the city's second world's fair that began in 1933 and was titled "Century of Progress Exposition."

By Friday morning, crews had also dismantled a Columbus statue that had been standing in Chicago's Little Italy neighborhood.

Mayor Lightfoot's office released a statement on the removal of statues.

The city of Chicago — at Mayor Lightfoot's direction — has temporarily removed the Christopher Columbus statues in Grant Park and Arrigo Park until further notice. This action was taken after consultation with various stakeholders. It comes 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. This step is about an effort to protect public safety and to preserve a safe space for an inclusive and democratic public dialogue about our city's symbols. In addition, our public safety resources must be concentrated where they are most needed throughout the city, and particularly in our South and West Side communities.

The removal of the Columbus statues is a complete about-face for Lightfoot, who said last month that the monuments should not be torn down.

"Look, I know that the issue of Columbus, Columbus Day is an issue of great discussion but I think that the way in which we educate our young people in particular about the history is to educate them about the full history," Lightfoot said during a news conference in June when asked if Columbus statues should be removed.

"We're not always gonna agree on every issue and I know that Columbus and his legacy is a flashpoint for many," Lightfoot added. "But I think again, we need to use this moment as an opportunity to find our common ground as people. That's what we should be doing in Chicago is to unify not divide."

The announcement to remove the statues came hours after hundreds of protesters gathered outside of Lightfoot's home in the Logan Square neighborhood.

Protesters celebrated the news of the Columbus statues being torn down.

Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez, 33rd Ward, wrote on Twitter: "It's coming down because of the activism that has led to this moment. Indigenous, Black and Brown people have been fighting for so long to see this happen. It's also a balancing act, the Mayor just accepted Federal Agents from Trump."

Sergio Giangrande, president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, released a statement about the removal of the statue:

There is nothing more important than the safety of all Chicagoans and our Chicago Police Officers who work so hard to protect our rights and communities. Our community is hurt- we are not okay with these statues being taken down, but we stand by the City's decision to do so in the interest of public safety. Mayor Lightfoot has told us that this is not over. We look forward to being able to have the conversation about something that means so much to Italian Americans at a time free of violence.

Last Friday, at least 1,000 protesters gathered at Chicago's Grant Park and attempted to tear down the Columbus statue. Some rioters launched fireworks and threw projectiles at the Chicago police who were guarding the monument.

Last month, a Christopher Columbus statue in Boston was beheaded. Also in June, a group of residents from Philadelphia gathered together to protect their local Columbus sculpture.

Since the George Floyd protests erupted around the country in late May, historic statues have been torn down. Statues that have been taken down or damaged, include famed abolitionist Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Francis Scott Key, and an 18th-century Spanish priest.

One last thing…
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