LIGHTFOOT DEFENDS STATUE-SNATCHING
Mayor says last week’s ‘temporary’ removal of pair of Columbus monuments in middle of the night came about after intelligence raised public safety fears
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday she ordered two statues of Christopher Columbus “temporarily” removed in the middle of the night after receiving “intelligence that gave us great concern” that something bad was about to happen.
The mayor refused to elaborate on the threat or the source of the intelligence that led her to believe Chicago was about to see a repeat of the ugly Grant Park confrontation between protesters and police that, she claimed, had been “hijacked” by a small group of “vigilantes who came for a fight.”
But Lightfoot made it clear she considered the warning serious enough to warrant immediate action in the middle of the night.
“I wanted to make sure we did it as quickly as possible. We received some information that day [Thursday] that raised some very serious public safety concerns. I didn’t want to wait,” the mayor said.
Lightfoot argued there is no comparison to the action she took and Mayor Richard M. Daley’s midnight destruction of Meigs Field on Northerly Island.
Daley consulted virtually no one and sent in a fleet of bulldozers to carve giant X’s in the lakefront airport’s only runway to realize his long-standing dream of turning the island into a park. Lightfoot, by contrast, said she “consulted a lot of people along the way” and was motivated only by public safety.
“I don’t do anything in a vacuum. I always make sure that we’re reaching out proactively to talk to a number of different folks. And I think people understand, given what happened and what was threatened, that this was about public safety,” she said.
Some people don’t believe the mayor’s stated motives and proclaimed desire to avoid diverting precious police resources toward downtown protests and away from South Side and West Side neighborhoods struggling to contain gang violence.
They have accused Lightfoot of rewarding the rioters. She disagreed.
“This was about public safety. Anyone who saw the videotapes from a previous Friday night, which saw a peaceful protest hijacked by vigilantes who came there to hurt the police but also other people got hurt in the ensuing chaos [knows better]. This was about public safety, pure and simple,” she said.
The skeptics also include Italian Americans and other proponents of the Columbus statues removed from Grant Park and Arrigo Park.
They don’t believe the mayor when she says the statues were “temporarily” moved to a safe place to protect them from further damage. Lightfoot dismissed those skeptics, as well. “I said it’s temporary,” the mayor said. Statues of Columbus in Chicago and elsewhere have become a target of protests against racial injustice. The Italian explorer mistreated the indigenous people he encountered, activists say, and his arrival in North America led to colonization and exploitation.
Last month, Lightfoot said Chicago statues of Columbus vandalized repeatedly since the death of George Floyd should not be torn down, but rather used to confront the nation’s history and trigger a “reckoning” that’s long overdue. Yet after the July 17 standoff, she said her team has been developing a plan for a “comprehensive review of our public icons.”
On Monday, the mayor renewed that commitment.
“What we’re gonna be announcing is a process by which we take stock of murals and monuments and other memorials to our past, but also that we talk about the past that hasn’t been highlighted or lifted up. There’s a lot of richness to our history as Chicagoans as a city that doesn’t appear in any way shape or form of memorialization,” she said.
“We don’t do enough to talk about indigenous peoples here in Chicago and that long history . . . . There’s very little that memorializes and uplifts the challenges, but also the triumphs of people of color: Black, Latinx, Asian. We see very little commemorating . . . the contributions of women in our city. This is a conversation that’s long overdue, and we will have it.”
This is the case of the very unnoticed Christopher Columbus statue.
After protests that resulted in the removal of two Christopher Columbus statues in the wee hours of Friday morning — one in Little Italy, the other in Grant Park — the city’s (apparently) lone remaining statue honoring the controversial Italian explorer stands a bit over seven feet tall in the middle of a Far South Side intersection.
It’s unclear if the statue has drawn the attention of protesters.
The bronze figure — one arm akimbo — is on a small, triangular concrete pedestrian island that’s surrounded by South Chicago Avenue, Exchange Avenue and 92nd Street in the South Chicago neighborhood.
“It hasn’t been overlooked. I’m in conversations with the city,” Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) said Monday evening.
“I’m looking to take it down as soon as possible,” she said, saying that she personally believes it should be replaced with a statue of a different Italian person who’s contributed to society.
Sadlowski Garza was not surprised the statue was not caught up in recent protests.
“There’s a lot of people that never venture this far south in the city, they just get on the Skyway and never come here,” she said.
She’s heard from a number of constituents who want the statue removed, including members of her own family.
According to the city’s website, the statue was originally part of a public drinking fountain that was a gift from Chicago hotelier John B. Drake. Dedicated in 1892, it’s believed to be Chicago’s first statue commemorating Columbus. It was originally located on Washington Street near what was then City Hall but was moved to its present location in 1909.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Lori Lightfoot didn’t address the fate of the statue directly but wrote in an email: “To ensure a safe process for residents to express their support or concerns over any of Chicago’s monuments, memorials, and murals, the City will be announcing a formal framework to assess statues in partnership with our local communities.”
City crews remove the Christopher Columbus statue from its pedestal in Grant Park early Friday morning.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot
A statue of Christopher Columbus still stands at East 92nd Street near South Chicago and Exchange avenues.