Chicago removes Columbus statue in Grant Park overnight after protesters tried to topple it

The city temporarily removed Columbus statues from both Grant Park and Little Italy "in response to demonstrations that became unsafe for both protesters and police," a statement said.

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By Elisha Fieldstadt

Chicago removed a Christopher Columbus statue from the city's lakefront Grant Park before dawn Friday, a week after protesters tried to topple it.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot's office said the city temporarily removed Columbus statues from both Grant Park and the Little Italy neighborhood a few miles away "until further notice." It was not immediately clear where the statues were taken.

The removals come "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," the statement said. "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."

On July 17, a clash between protesters and police at the Grant Park statue resulted in injuries of both demonstrators and officers.

Lightfoot, a Democrat, originally said she didn't think the Grant Park statue should come 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 in June, according to NBC Chicago.

But on Monday, the mayor said she would announce a plan to take inventory of monuments and other symbols in the city.

"In time, our team will determine there are no monuments to African Americans in this city," Lightfoot said. "There are no monuments to women. There are no monuments that reflect the contributions of people in the city of Chicago who contributed to the greatness of this city," the mayor said, according to NBC Chicago.

The statement on Friday said the mayor and city "will be announcing a formal process to assess each of the monuments, memorials, and murals across Chicago’s communities, and develop a framework for creating a public dialogue to determine how we elevate our city’s history and diversity."

Both Columbus statues that were taken down Friday had been vandalized last month, NBC Chicago reported.

Like Confederate monuments around the country, statues of Columbus have been targeted in recent protests over the Italian navigator's history of colonization, enslavement and violence toward native peoples in the Americas.

The statue removals come as President Donald Trump's administration plans to dispatch federal law enforcement agents to the city in response to a recent swell in gun violence, a plan that has raised concerns among some Chicago community activists.

A collection of activist groups filed suit Thursday, seeking to block the federal agents from interfering in or policing protests, The Associated Press reported.

Trump on Wednesday evening called Lightfoot to confirm his administration's plan to bring agents into the city to supplement violent crime investigations. In a statement, Lightfoot's office offered caution, saying that "the mayor has made clear that if there is any deviation from what has been announced, we will pursue all available legal options to protect Chicagoans."

Trump directed federal agents to Portland following an executive order to punish those who vandalize federal monuments or government property. In widespread, nightly demonstrations in the city, residents have protested the presence of federal agents.