On July 17, protesters gathered at Buckingham Fountain in Chicago to denounce colonialism and call for the abolishment of the police and the redistribution of funds back to the people of Chicago. The rally, which drew more than 1,500 people, was organized by Chi-Nations Youth Council, Black Lives Matter Chicago, BYP 100 and several other organizations.
The event kicked off peacefully with Indigenous drumming and chants of solidarity with the Indigenous cause. Speakers called for the abolition and defunding of the police, with chants from the now famous line-turned-song “You about to lose your job!” A popular sign and slogan of the event could be seen throughout the crowd: “#DecolonizeZhigaagoong” [Decolonize Chicago]. A Chicago hip-hop artist performed and was met with loud cheers and dancing from the crowd.
Soon after, some 1,000 people, directed by some of the speakers, began to march down Columbus Drive toward the statue of Christopher Columbus. As they marched they chanted, “I am on stolen land, built by stolen people!”
Chicago police surrounded the statue and would not let the protesters through. They began swinging nightsticks and batons.
While local media focused on the protesters throwing bottles and firecrackers, it was clear that the police instigated the violence. “CPD can’t be satisfied with a peaceful resolution,” said Drake Stewart of the Party for Socialism and Liberation of Chicago.
Police also stole the protesters’ bicycles and used them against the crowd. “Us throwing bikes at cops never happened, in fact cops snatched our bikes and threw them at us, while clearing us out. They took the bikes and stole them, yes stole. Because that’s what they are, they are leeches and thieves,” protester Anna Burgos told Liberation News.
Some protesters ensnared the statue with ropes in order to tear it down. The police, clad in riot gear, pepper sprayed the section of the crowd facing Columbus Drive, breaking through a human barricade. Stewart and Burgos were both pepper sprayed. “The entire surface of my body was irritated to the point of feeling boiled alive. For two hours I wanted to rip my skin off or take an ice bath,” said Stewart.
Swinging nightsticks, the police detained and arrested at least 12 people; many protesters were injured. The crowd retreated and returned to Buckingham Fountain to rally in solidarity.
“It was beautiful to see how many people came together in solidarity for BIPOC … truly beautiful to see the unity and community protecting each other, aiding each other, offering support and help,” said Burgos. Funds were quickly set up to help those injured or whose bicycles were taken by police.
“It only further proves we do not need a police state. We need each other. Our community. Our solidarity, unconditionally. Our communities would thrive if CPD was defunded and that budget went to schools, mental health programs, etc.,” Burgos said.
Statues of Columbus have long been a point of controversy in Chicago, although Mayor Lori Lightfoot has opposed taking them down.
“Chicagoans have been calling for the removal of Columbus statues for years. The responsible thing to do would have been to mothball the statue, as the city has done with many statues over they years,” said Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa on Twitter. “Black and Indigenous Chicagoans and people from all across the city came together to do what our so-called progressive mayor refused and failed to do. They were met with violence and abuse. It’s shameful and disgusting.”
After the rally, a fence was placed around the statue by the Chicago Police Department.