CHICAGO — The Civilian Office of Police Accountability is investigating alleged police misconduct after protesters and CPD clashed in Grant Park Friday night.
Chicago police said they arrested 12 people after a large rally at the Christopher Columbus statue.
The protest started as a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally downtown. The crowd eventually moved to the statue around 7 p.m. near Columbus Drive and Roosevelt Road in Grant Park. About 1,000 people rushed the statue, which is when the chaos ensued.
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Protesters tried to yank down the statue of Columbus. Columbus Day has in recent years been controversial because the day has been used to commemorate the Italian explorer who claimed to have discovered the region now known as the Americas in 1492. The area was already populated by indigenous people and some have argued that Columbus’ actions led to their genocide.
Those opposed to renaming the holiday argue that the day is meant for celebrating Italian heritage and historical contributions.
At Friday’s protest, demonstrators at one point threw fireworks, cans and rocks at police officers who used batons. Some people climbed the wall surrounding the statue and some tried for 30 minutes to bring it down.
“They tear gassed real people,” one protester said. “They threw bricks at real people, and hit batons on real people to protect the statue. So when we say, ‘Who do you protect and who do you serve?’ It’s a statue of Christopher Columbus.”
Those arrested at the protest may face charges including mob action and battery to a police officer.
On Saturday morning, there was still a police presence near the statue.
Police said 18 officers were injured during the rally. Four civilians were hospitalized Friday and their conditions are unknown.
The Grant Park statue, and the one in Little Italy, have been vandalized before. Controversial statues, including statues of Confederate leaders and slave owners, have been vandalized and taken down nationwide.
On Saturday afternoon, COPA announced they are investigating after receiving multiple complaints of police brutality.
“Residents of this City have a right to exercise their First Amendment rights. Complaints of police misconduct of the Chicago Police Department that violate those rights or violate Department policy within our jurisdiction will be thoroughly investigated by our office,” said COPA Chief Administrator Sydney Roberts. “As the civilian led oversight body of the Chicago Police Department we take every complaint seriously, conduct our investigations with the utmost integrity and remain accountable to the residents of this City.”
COPA said you can file a complaint at chicagocopa.org/complaints or by calling 312-743-2672.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued the following statement:
Hundreds took to the streets yesterday to express their First Amendment right to protest. I unequivocally support and will always fight for the rights of individuals to peacefully protest on any issue. The history and stories of the lives of Indigenous People here in Chicago need to be lifted up and celebrated. There is a dialogue that must be had to honestly confront the deeply ingrained history of racism and discrimination that has subjected Black, Indigenous and other communities of color in our city and our nation for too long.
For several weeks, my team has been working to develop a plan to pursue that public conversation, and to engage in a comprehensive review of our public icons to identify which should change, and where we need new monuments and icons to be erected to ensure the full, robust history of our city is told. The details of that plan are forthcoming, but please know that we hear and take seriously these questions.
Unfortunately, last night, a portion of the protesters turned violent. 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.
There have also been several reports of excessive force by the police. These are also unacceptable. I have spoken to the director of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, and she has assured me that COPA stands ready to address these complaints and will ensure that each of these is dealt with and investigated. We will not spare any resources to do so. If you believe you have been mistreated by the police, then I urge you to file a complaint through COPA or by dialing 311.
This is a difficult moment in our history. I know Chicagoans are frustrated and impatient for change. It is my sincere hope that we can strike the right balance to ensure people can rightfully express themselves and their First Amendment rights, but to do so in a way that does not put anyone’s physical safety at risk. That would be consistent with the long history of peaceful protest in our city.