Year after Columbus statues removed from Chicago, groups on both sides of issue say there’s been no progress

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CHICAGO — One year ago this week, a clash over a monument in Grant Park prompted Chicago’s mayor to remove three Christopher Columbus statues that had been on display for decades.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she did it the name of safety after a rally turned into something more like a riot and made national headlines. She said it was removed because police were pummeled with frozen water bottles, smoke bombs and more as they surrounded this statue to stop some violent protestors from tearing it down. They used pepper spray and more to hold back the aggressive crowd.

Some demonstrators saw it differently when they got caught in the melee. Activist Miracle Boyd, with the group “Good Kids Mad City,” said police punched her in the mouth.

There were dozen arrests and even more injured that night. 

Lightfoot formed a committee to address those monuments, plus 38 others still standing around Chicago.

There’s been no answers about what to do yet or what has been learned so far.

Groups, for and against the statues, are both frustrated over a debate that has been centuries in the making.

The Chicago Monuments Project committee is comprised of dozens of people from the academic world, the arts, city leaders and more with varied ethnic backgrounds. They are charged with evaluating 41 controversial plaques and statues around the city. Only three have been removed — all depicting Christopher Columbus.

Ron Onesti is the president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans.

 “Since Moment One, July 24, we’ve been present, ready and reaching out. We’ve been patient and respectful,” he said. “And we’re trying to be communicative about what we’re looking for, what we want and what we want to be a part of. … And we haven’t gotten anything back. … If there was any other ethnic group involved in this equation I guarantee you this wouldn’t look like this.”

And one of the dozens of activist groups at the rally that fateful day, feels the same way.

Janie Pochel wants to know why the Chi-Nation Youth Council isn’t at the table, too? They were at the Black Indigenous Solidarity Rally that day. Pochel said no one can seem to get through to the committee and she takes issue with the people placed on it.

“It’s frustrating the way the committee was set up,” she said. “Those members weren’t representative of the people that were brutalized by the cops or the people who are negatively affected by those statues and the narrative that Columbus discovered America.”

Pochel said she wants public spaces once graced with Columbus statues to be replaced with welcoming spaces like the First Nations Garden in Albany Park.

Onesti  said he wants all three statues put back and a dialogue about how to do it initiated now. He’s going to court to get the conversation started.

The Chicago Monuments Project did respond to WGN with a statement that said

Since the launch of the Chicago Monuments Project last fall, the project has engaged thousands of individuals through the website and over 40 virtual programs that were hosted by committee members, national experts, and local community organizations.

The project will extend its community engagement this summer with a series of in-person neighborhood programs.

Both Pochel and Onesti said they are tired of waiting.

 “We’re done with it now. We‘ve been patient, communicative, respectful,” Onesti said. “It’s a year later and we’re done. Now is the time for us to get some answers.”

The Chicago Monuments Project says it is still drafting its recommendations.

As for the three statues already removed, WGN News reached out to the Chicago Park District several times to learn more about their status. Calls and emails weren’t returned.

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