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Reason Behind Columbus Statue Removals in Chicago Wasn't Just the History

Crews were seen taking down the statues in Grant Park and the city's Little Italy neighborhood during the overnight hours Friday

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The reason behind the removal of Chicago's two Christopher Columbus statues early Friday wasn't what some might think.

According to a statement from the mayor's office hours after the statues were taken down, the move was actually was done in an effort to "protect public safety."

Crews were seen taking down the statues in Grant Park and the city's Little Italy neighborhood during the overnight hours. By 6 a.m., only the pedestal remained in Grant Park, where the statue stood since 1933 after being dedicated during Chicago's second World Fair.

"The city of Chicago—at Mayor Lightfoot’s direction—has temporarily removed the Christopher Columbus statues in Grant Park and Arrigo Park until further notice," the mayor's office said in a statement. "This action was taken after consultation with various stakeholders. It 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. This step is about an effort to protect public safety and to preserve a safe space for an inclusive and democratic public dialogue about our city's symbols. In addition, our public safety resources must be concentrated where they are most needed throughout the city, and particularly in our South and West Side communities."

Video shows the moments two Christopher Columbus statues in Chicago were taken down. One was in the city’s Grant Park and a second in the Little Italy neighborhood.

Reports first surfaced on social media Thursday indicating the statue at Grant Park could be taken down as soon as late Thursday night.

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

Still, some Italian-Americans in Chicago said they did not support the move.

"Columbus is a symbol of hope who we've celebrated for years and maybe we all forgot why we celebrated Christopher Columbus," Sergio Giangrande, president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian American said. "To take someone who's a symbol of hope for us? We are not OK with that."

Giangrande added, however, that the group understands the safety concerns but hoped for a compromise.

"I can guarantee you that Italian Americans are not happy about this," he said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday that she would announce a process in which the city will take inventory of the various monuments, paintings "and other things that memorialize" Chicago's past and history.

"In time, our team will determine there are no monuments to African Americans in this city," Lightfoot said. "There are no monuments to women. There are no monuments that reflect the contributions of people in the city of Chicago who contributed to the greatness of this city."

Lightfoot said last month she didn't believe the statue at Grant Park should be taken down, however.

"Look, I know that the issue of Columbus, Columbus Day is an issue of great discussion but I think that the way in which we educate our young people in particular about the history is to educate them about the full history," Lightfoot said at the time.

Last Friday, chaos erupted as clashes broke out during a protest calling for the Grant Park statue's removal. There, 49 Chicago police officers and four demonstrators were injured. More than a dozen individuals were also arrested.

Chicago police have since said a group infiltrated the peaceful protest to spark violence.

In June, the Grant Park statue of Christopher Columbus was spray-painted with the letters "BLM" for Black Lives Matter. The following day, vandals hit a statue of President George Washington in the city's Washington Park, spray painting the words "slave owner" and "God Bless Amerikkka" on the base and placing a white hood over the monument in reference to the Ku Klux Klan.

The Columbus statues in both Grant Park and the city's Little Italy neighborhood were also vandalized last month.

Statues of Columbus have also been toppled or vandalized in cities such as MiamiRichmond, VirginiaSt. Paul, Minnesota; and Boston, where one was decapitated.

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