Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been in the spotlight this week after she agreed to work with President Donald Trump in expanding “Operation Legend,” with plans to send 200 federal agents to the streets of Chicago. Thousands of demonstrators arrived at the mayor’s house Thursday night to protest these plans when, in a surprising twist, they learned about the mayor’s decision to have two Christopher Columbus statues removed from the city’s Grant and Arrigo parks.
The two statues came down early Friday morning, just one week after police violently clashed with protesters at the Columbus statue in Grant Park. Protesters threw fireworks and rocks at police during the 17th July action, and were beaten with batons, tear gassed, and arrested. Miracle Boyd, an 18-year-old youth activist with GoodKids MadCity was assaulted by a police officer while filming an arrest.
Some are now saying Lightfoot’s decision to remove the statues is just one way to avoid further confrontations over the monuments, particularly ahead of the federal agents that will be deployed in the city. Still, it was a win for Indigenous and Black activists who organised the “Decolonize Zhigaagong” action in solidarity.
The removal of the Columbus statues "comes 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 mayor's office said. The statement added that the statues came down so the city could dispatch “public safety resources” to Chicago’s South and West sides, “where they are most needed.”
Before the announcement of the statues' removal, thousands of protesters marched to Lightfoot’s house, where they chanted “Fuck CPD” to the tune of “YMCA,” and sang “Fuck Donald Trump.” The action was organised both as a continuation of the ongoing police abolition protests, and amid the mayor’s plans to welcome federal agents to the city.
Black Lives Matter organisers have sounded the alarms over the mayor’s plans to welcome 200 agents to Chicago, looking to Portland, where unidentified agents have kidnapped and brutalised protesters over the last two weeks. A coalition of anti-racist and progressive groups in Chicago, including Black Lives Matter Chicago, GoodKids MadCity, and the National Lawyers Guild Chicago, among others, filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday in an effort to prevent federal agents from interfering with the ongoing protests.
The lawsuit argues that based on Chicago’s “history of violence against peaceful protestors,” including police violence against protesters in recent weeks, inviting “federal forces to illegally intimidate, police, and falsely arrest peaceful protestors will ignite additional official violence against civilians and a serious constitutional crisis.”
The timing of Lightfoot’s temporary removal of the Columbus statues too conveniently coincides with her agreement with Trump to deploy federal agents to the city. The agents will allegedly work with police to address violence in the city’s most marginalised communities. But Chicago residents and organisers have a close eye on the mayor, as they continue taking their fight against systemic racism to the streets.