CHICAGO — Officials say videos released Monday show a group of demonstrators bringing projectiles and preparing to confront police during a protest at the statue of Christopher Columbus in downtown Chicago which turned violent Friday night.
Chicago Police Department Superintendent David Brown provided the department’s version of events during a press conference Monday after they faced criticism over their response to protests over the weekend.
“What began as a peaceful protest at Grant Park Friday evening devolved into a very dangerous situation in which mob action deliberately sought to injure officers, provoke retaliation and damage property,” Brown said.
Videos taken from police pod and video cameras show scenes from the protests throughout Friday evening. Early on, about 1,000 peaceful protesters can be seen marching from the Buckingham Fountain down Columbus Drive, before turning into Grant Park and heading towards the Columbus statue.
Before reaching the statue, a group of dozens of protesters can be seen raising black umbrellas, while some appear to change their clothes into all-black attire. During this time, police say this group of protesters were preparing to confront police and attempt to pull down the statue.
At one point, officials said some protesters can be seen unloading what they described as projectiles, including frozen cans and water bottles, so they could be thrown at police officers.
They say the group moved through the larger protest in a “phalanx” before getting up to the line of officers standing guard at the statue.
Police seemingly were caught off-guard by a violent turn in the crowd, as video shows frozen water bottles, fireworks and other items being thrown at officers who are not wearing helmets or other protective equipment, in an apparent attempt to get them to leave so the statue could be torn down.
Police say 49 officers were injured in the confrontation and 18 were taken to the hospital, including a police sergeant who had a serious injury to his eyesocket and to his knee cap.
During a press conference Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the ability to protest a “sacred right,” but said the video footage shows a “group of vigilantes” who planned to fight with police.
“We can’t have a circumstance where a small subset that try to take over and hijack the peaceful protest and then turn it into a fight with the police,” Lightfoot said. “That’s not peaceful protest – that’s anarchy, and we will bring that down.”
Brown said 12 individuals were arrested Friday night for mob action, battery to a police officer and criminal damage to property.
Lightfoot said accusations of police brutality surrounding the protests over the weekend are under investigation. Anyone who believes they were mistreated by police should call 311 and report it to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, she said.
In a statement released Sunday, COPA said it was investigating 20 accusations against CPD officers in connection with the protests, including an incident where an officer allegedly punched an 18-year-old protester in the face and knocked out some of her teeth.
“We need to remember that we are neighbors, and we need to remember that our children are watching,” Lighftoot said.
When it comes to the statue itself, Lightfoot said there are no plans to remove the statue at this time, but the city is going to launch an official effort to take “inventory and stock” of historical markers in the city.
“It’s not just about a single statue, it’s about how we want to reflect our values as a city to make sure that everyone is reflected in our history, and particularly in our permanent memorialization of our history,” Lightfoot said.
After the weekend’s events, Brown said officers will wear protective gear whenever they are working at protests moving forward.
“We just don’t want to believe that people would act this way towards us – that they would take advantage of our sacred right to First Amendment,” Brown said. “Because of these mob actions we cannot assume that protests are going to be peaceful.”