Statues of Christopher Columbus in Grant, Arrigo Parks must be returned, protected at taxpayer expense, Italian-American group says
The Joint Italian-American Civic Committee said Wednesday it was putting the finishing touches on a plan to return by Columbus Day — and protect at the city’s expense — the Columbus statues that Mayor Lori Lightfoot had ordered. to withdraw from Grant and Arrigo parks two years ago.
Chairman Ron Onesti said the plan – designed by a “national security firm” at the committee’s expense – calls for different levels of protection.
The statues have become a favorite target of protests and vandalism during civil unrest following the May 2020 killing of George Floyd. Protesters clashed with police in Grant Park as they attempted to topple the statue during a big showdown in July 2020.
Security recommendations range from cameras, motion detectors and 24-hour guards to “plexiglass covering” and “coatings” on statutes “so that cleaning is easier,” Onesti said.
To protect the Columbus statue in Grant Park, the report suggests barriers to keep the public away. There’s even a proposal to educate the public – by installing plaques to “tell the story of the Native American experience.”
“We really believe that one of the reasons all of this is happening is because of misunderstandings and literal lies about the statues themselves,” Onesti said.
Onesti declined to put a price tag on the proposed security upgrades, saying only that Chicago taxpayers “should pay 100%.”
“It’s a measure to protect property owned by the city or the park district, and it’s the job of the police department to protect its assets,” he said.
“If the mayor comes back and says she needs private sector involvement, we’ll have fun watching that.”
Aldus. Nick Sposato (38th), who is Italian-American, said the recommendation for 24-hour police protection may not be realistic.
“We’re short as it is. It would be the worst thing to put three teams of police there to protect him. We don’t want to take guys off the streets for this,” Sposato said.
The alternative is “for people to be civil”, but Sposato said he does not believe “we will ever see that again in this country”.
“I just know what will happen if it goes up: they will mobilize. The next day they will be there, and they will attack the police. They will try to tear it down. They will throw paint on it. It will be the same thing that happened a few years ago,” he said.
The security plan is designed to be a “conversation starter” — if only Lightfoot would start that conversation, as she continues to ask a judge to dismiss the Joint Civic Committee’s lawsuit against the city.
If she doesn’t, Onesti is counting on a court order to force the mayor’s hand by Columbus Day. He noted that he waited a year after the statues were “temporarily removed” to file a lawsuit.
“We want them now with a plan, and we would like to celebrate it with Columbus Day,” Oct. 10, he said.
Lightfoot in July 2020 ordered the two statues to be “temporarily” removed in the middle of the night from their homes in Grant and Arrigo parks, based on reports that something serious was about to happen.
At the same time, the mayor said, the statues should not be torn down, but rather used to confront the nation’s history and trigger a long overdue “reckoning.”
City Hall then created an advisory committee to conduct a comprehensive review of more than 500 Chicago statues and monuments to identify those that were offensive, problematic, or unrepresentative of the city’s values of fairness and justice.
In early April, the Monuments Committee recommended that these two statues of Christopher Columbus be permanently discarded.
But Lightfoot strongly hinted that the purely advisory recommendation, which had been in the works for nearly two years, would be ignored — particularly regarding the two statues of Columbus, as well as a Columbus monument near 92nd Street and South Chicago Ave.
“I don’t believe in erasing history. I think it has to be put in a proper context. I think you have to honor the entirety of that history,” the mayor said then.
Lightfoot described Columbus as an “incredibly controversial figure, considering what happened to the native population across the Americas” after his arrival.
“He didn’t discover America, did he? Indigenous people had been here for centuries before Christopher Columbus arrived here,” she said.
“But I also know that Columbus is an incredibly important figure to many – not the least of whom is the Italian-American community in Chicago.”
Sposato said Lightfoot assured him at their last dinner that the Columbus statutes would be returned. She didn’t say when.
“If it’s after the election, I’m fine – as long as it’s up there,” Sposato said.
“It’s been three years [by then]which is long – but as long as we put them back up there.