Italian-American Group Calls for City of Chicago to Return Columbus Statues

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An Italian-American group that has called for the city of Chicago to reinstall three Christopher Columbus statues taken down last summer says the city broke a long-standing deal when it removed the statues following peaceful and violent protests.

Ron Onesti, president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, says the group recently found a 1973 agreement with the Chicago Park District which he said clearly states, "there can be no alterations of not only the Columbus Statue at Arrigo Park, but also Columbus Plaza as a whole.”

Following violent clashes in July, statues of Christopher Columbus in Grant Park and Arrigo Park were taken down at the direction of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. A third statue at the intersection of East 92nd Street and South Exchange Avenue in South Chicago was also removed by city crews.

At the time, Lightfoot said the move was "temporary," but didn't provide a timeframe for when the statues would be returned.

"We understand there were safety concerns back then, but this is now," Onesti said Friday. "It was supposed to be a temporary situation.”

Protesters across the county called for the removal of Columbus statues this summer, saying that the Italian explorer is responsible for the genocide and exploitation of native peoples in the Americas.

However, Italian Americans dispute the characterization.

“The misinformation that’s out there about Columbus and the genocide and everything for the most part is untrue and a lot of it is left to perception," Onesti said.

Besides wanting the statues back up, Onesti hopes for more dialogue about the history of Columbus.

“Everybody is so sensitive these days and all we’re asking is for people to be sensitive to our concerns," he said. "We’re all in this together, we all want to heal and the first step is conversation and respecting everybody else’s traditions.”

In a statement, the Chicago Park District said it "is reviewing the Columbus Statue agreement," adding "the monument was removed temporarily for public safety concerns."

NBC 5 reached out to Mayor Lightfoot's office about the 1973 contract, but had not heard back as of Friday afternoon.

The Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans provided a copy of the agreement to NBC 5.

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