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.
The statement was signed by several members of the City Council, including Alderwoman Jeanette Taylor and Alderwoman Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez, and two members of the Legislature — state Rep. Delia Ramirez and state Sen. Robert Peters.
Lightfoot said Saturday that she “will always fight for the rights of individuals to peacefully protest on any issue” but noted that “a portion of the protesters turned violent” during Friday’s protest.
“A number of individuals came with frozen water bottles, rocks, bottles, cans and other gear to throw at officers. People in the crowd also threw fireworks and other incendiary devices at police, causing injury in several cases. These violent acts are unacceptable and put everyone at risk,” she said in a statement.
The mayor said reports of excessive force by officers during their response to the protest “are also unacceptable” and urged anyone who believes they were mistreated by police to file a complaint with the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, or by dialing 311.
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 brutalizing 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 neighborhood were also vandalized 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 vandalized in cities such as Miami; Richmond, Virginia; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Boston, where one was decapitated.