By Patrick Forrest
Protesters clashed with police after attempts to bring down a statue depicting Christopher Columbus Friday night–July 17. The protest, organized by Black Youth Project 100, Black Lives Matter Chicago, Chi-Nations Youth Council, LetUsBreathe Collective and others, started at Buckingham Fountain but moved south where protesters began to surround the statue.
With the statue beginning to be climbed an overwhelming police presence was called upon to attempt to regain control of the situation. Despite that chanted goal by protesters to bring the statue down and the CPD’s position to protest it, some like 35th Ward Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa knew that a clash was going to become problematic.
“Looks like 1,000+ Chicagoans have surrounded the Grant Park Columbus Statue,” Ramirez-Rosa tweeted at the time of the protest. “[Chicago Police] should stand down. Our city should value life, and not being sued for misconduct, more than a racist statue.”
The Alderman was seemingly correct as multiple reports of officers indiscriminately pepper spraying and hitting protesters began to appear online with even journalists not being spared from the abuse. With BlockClub Chicago reporter Colin Boyle describing how he was assaulted by officers despite having press credentials on his person at the time.
“I was just assaulted by an officer for crossing the road to my bicycle while holding up my press badge and he called me a “smart ass” for doing so,” Boyle said on Twitter accompanied by video of the incident. “[He] accused me of wanting to start a problem. I yelled help, he said ‘you’re gonna need help’ before throwing me.”
Potentially most egregious of all were the actions that officers took against 18-year-old GoodKidMadCity organizer Miracle Boyd. An officer could be seen hitting Boyd in the face, leaving her bloodied and with undisclosed injuries.
Images of Boyd following the encounter were shared by the GoodKidMadCity Twitter account, where they shared their anger and resolve for keeping the movement growing in attempts to officially defund the Chicago Police Department.
“Our member Miracle was beaten up by police tonight and they stole her phone!” The group said on social media. “A recent CPS graduate was attacked by CPD! She didn’t do anything wrong! [Is] this how you treat Black girls.”
Everyone who had the opportunity to interact with the 18-year-old activist was shocked and disheartened by the news and image that came across with it.
“She is fighting gun violence every day. Last week I offered her an internship,” State Senator Robert Peters, who joined Boyd at a march just last week said. “She is just over 5 feet, 100 pounds. Tonight a police officer beat her. Knocked out her teeth. I’m sad, angry, and disgusted.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up on Miracle’s behalf hoping to raise $50,000. As of writing the page is just short of $30,000 with over 850 donors.
“Please support Miracle if you can. Anything helps,” Anthony Clark with the Suburban Unity Alliance who set up the page said. “I am a high school teacher & director of local nonprofit Suburban Unity Alliance. All funds raised will go directly to supporting Miracle’s journey & any additional funds raised will be donated to the continued fight to improve our communities & end police sanctioned violence.”
With the images coming out of this Friday night protest some wonder if the response was worth it for the taxpayers.
“Police brutality at today’s protest may cost the city millions. And for what? To protect a racist statue?” Ramirez-Rosa said. “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 the years.”
Even Mayor Lightfoot had a different attitude about the topic at the time of her campaign and election to mayor than she has now.
“My body of work demonstrates my commitment to ensuring that public safety is available to everyone and in every neighborhood,” Lightfoot said in 2019 just days after officially winning the mayoral election. “That officers must be held accountable for misconduct and that taxpayers cannot continue to shoulder the burden of unchecked misconduct manifested in settlements, judgments, and attorneys’ fees currently totaling over $500 million in the last seven years.”
Despite those words, Lightfoot has stood as a roadblock to many of the police reform efforts pushed by activists during the past couple of months including defunding the police and giving the money to underfunded communities. Activists believe that this process will remove poverty from many communities, which they have connected to be the root cause to much of the gun violence seen on the south and west side of the city.
“We need to be funding different resources for Black and brown communities, there is so much money that is being given to people that are known for murdering us, brutalizing us, and beating us,” Alycia Kamil, a 19-year-old Kenwood Academy grad who is also a member of GoodKid MadCity,” said. “The trainings obviously aren’t working, there are cop academies and all kinds of safety precautions. It goes to show that the use of police officers does not work, and there are other restorative justice practices that can ensure we are all safe.”
Even Lightfoot, again in her past words seemed to be speaking to many of the issues that protesters and activists are currently calling for when she won her mayoral seat in overwhelming fashion.
“We must guarantee public safety as a basic right by addressing the root causes of violence, implementing a proactive strategy to stop gun violence, building trust between police officers and communities, and dramatically improving the low homicide clearance rate,” Lightfoot also said at the time of her election in 2019. “We must spark economic development citywide by growing small businesses in neighborhoods, raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and building pathways to good jobs. We often see a reduction in crime when people have access to a vibrant local economy.”
For their part Chicago Police released a statement on the incident at Grant Park calling on anyone who felt as though they were the victim of misconduct by an officer to call 311 additionally complaints can be made directly with State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office, as well as the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
Following the massive reports of police violence Mayor Lightfoot came online in hopes of calming the response to the images that appeared overnight.
“It is my sincere hope that we can strike the right balance to ensure people can rightfully express themselves and their First Amendment rights, but do so in a way that does not put anyone’s physical safety at risk,” Lightfoot said. “That would be consistent with our long history of peaceful protest.”