Update (Friday, July 24, 2020): On Thursday night, Mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered city crews to take down two Christopher Columbus statues — one in Grant Park and another in Arrigo Park. Both statues were taken down in the early morning hours on Friday. “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. 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,” Lightfoot said in a written statement on Friday morning.

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. It’s one of those fun rhymes taught to us in grammar school for one of our first history lessons: Christopher Columbus discovered America, followed by another story of friendly Native Americans breaking bread with European colonizers for Thanksgiving in 1619. These American lores, perpetuated by the white gatekeepers of history, are similar to the stories of submissive and obedient or jolly slaves caricatures such as Uncle Tom and Sambo. They erase the true history of America — the scores of Black and Indigenous lives lost across the diaspora and all the native lands stolen— at the hands of European settlers and generations of white descendants. 

In Chicago, Black, Brown and Indigenous organizers have been fighting for the city to recognize and honor a variety of truths. On July 17, at a Black and Indigenous solidarity rally in Grant Park, they called for the city to defund the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and decolonize Zhigaagoong, a movement to restore native lands to the Indigenous people who lived in Chicago before they were forcibly removed by the U.S. military in 1833. The word “Zhigaagoong” derives from the Native Anishnaabemowin language and refers to the unceded Niswi-mishokdewinan territory east of Michigan avenue. 

During the rally, which began at Buckingham Fountain before moving to the Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park, protestors were met by police who came armed and ready to guard the statue from those attempting to pull it down. Water bottles and fireworks were thrown, and police fought back with force, spraying gas into the crowd and physically attacking multiple people, including GoodKids MadCity organizer Miracle Boyd and photojournalist Colin Boyle, who was on assignment for Block Club Chicago.

On July 18, The TRiiBE sent emails to CPD and Mayor Lightfoot’s office, asking for clarity on the protocol for officers responding to movement action. Both responded with statements they’d already posted on social media.

So we then reached out to those who attended the rally, asking one central question: If you could say anything to Mayor Lightfoot and CPD after Friday’s rally, what would you say?

Here are their comments to Mayor Lightfoot and CPD.

These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Iris Haastrup, 20, rising junior at Wellesley College and member of Youth for Black Lives: “I think that it’s really important for Black and Indigenous people to be together as one, kind of referring back to that Fred Hampton video of fighting racism with solidarity. I think that it’s very valuable for specific groups, like Black people and Indigenous people, to help our own people. But I think something that’s more radical is transcending those lines into creating a racial and class alliance to fight systems of oppression and imperialism.

I saw [the rally] on Instagram. I [went] with two of my friends. One of my friends is Black and Indigenous. I’m Black — my mom’s Black American and my dad’s Nigerian. I thought it would be important for me and my friends to be there.

I went to the rally first. They were just talking about abolishing police. Racial capitalism. Black lives. Chanting, getting the crowd ready. I didn’t know that it was going to be a protest where people would be moving. The flyer just said rally. I went anyway because this is a protest. I went to three protests this entire time and I’ve been doing social justice and organizing work this entire summer. So I was most definitely down.”

Citlali Arroyo, 28, organized the vigil for her high school classmate Jemel Roberson, who was killed by Midlothian Police in 2018: I think that there’s a lot of miseducation about how, not just our country, but the city was founded, who founded it and who deserves to actually have the power. I believe in Indigenous sovereignty. I do believe in liberation of everything, and that includes our most marginalized members, and also I am part of the alumni for Lane Tech [College Prep High School] who are behind the petition trying to rename the mascot, [the Indians]. So this is just all going hand in hand because our students, our people, we deserve an actual true Indigenous people’s history. Without that, we’re not going to get anywhere. 

So being there [at the rally] and standing up for one another, that’s really what this is coming down to and it’s so physical because it has to be. It’s loud. It doesn’t have to be violent. We’re not the ones who are violent, but we will defend ourselves. Being able to see the leadership that I’ve worked with come together, put this [rally] together, it was amazing.”

Patrick Romano, 26, volunteer with Chicago Alliance:  “[The rally] really jumped out to me particularly because it [was] a Black and Indigenous solidarity rally about decolonizing Chicago. I think we take for granted so easily that the land we live on is stolen land, and it’s never really talked about in Chicago. I think it’s just so important to remember that that fight isn’t abstract for us. We are literally living on stolen land. So calling attention to that just really felt super, super important. 

[My partner, my roommate, another friend and I] got there around 5:00 p.m. when it was beginning at the rally around Buckingham Fountain. We listened to a lot of speakers. There was an Indigenous ceremony and prayer that happened at the beginning and we listened to a lot of speakers from the Chicago Alliance, from GoodKids MadCity. It was very much like a joyful rally. I’ve been out on the streets since the end of May pretty much everyday. In the last few weeks, as we’ve seen, numbers have for sure gone down. As soon as I started walking up to it, I was like, ‘oh, shit. There’s a lot of people here again.’ It was the first time it had gotten that big since, like, Juneteenth I feel like.”

Iris Haastrup: As we kept marching toward the statue, it was very peaceful. All the opposition came from the police. When I was there, one of my friends got pepper sprayed in the eyes and I think some of it got on her skin. So it was irritating her skin. And then it was just so much pepper spray in the air. I just couldn’t stop coughing. It just became unbearable to breathe. I saw so many Black people, specifically Black women, on the frontlines fighting this fight and just an amazing, terrible amount of brutality from the police hurting young people.”

Illustration by Robin Carnilius/The TRiiBE

Patrick Romano: Water bottles were being thrown. I saw cops throwing water bottles back at people. I saw them spraying mace indiscriminately. In the course of like five minutes, it feels like, is when everything became super chaotic. The cops were yelling at each other to do this, do that. One cop would be trying to beat on a protestor. Another cop would pull him back.

It’s all been a blur because it happened so fast and I think my body just kind of went into shock. An older Black rabbi was trying to get through to the front. We were letting him through. I think someone [else] was getting hit. I tried to reach for them, and that was when a cop grabbed me and said, ‘alright. We’re taking you.’ And just started dragging me and started hitting me. It’s all a blur but I have the bruises from it at least on my chest, my back and also my leg, which is giving me a bit of a limp right now. They put me in zip ties. As I was getting dragged across the street, my shoes came off and so I was barefoot. And also they ripped my mask off too.”

Citlali Arroyo: I saw the canisters being pulled out. There’s like a militarized sort of truck with a whole bunch of gear and other equipment that I bet the cost of could fund one school for probably 10 years or five years. Who knows? That’s really painful to see as a future educator. I just finished my masters of education. I want to be a preschool teacher in Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

There was so much unnecessary force from the police just grabbing anyone who was not even in front of the statue. There was a girl who was on the phone, on FaceTime, with someone, walking away and I saw this cop using his body to push her away and she was trying to tell him to stop. He shines his flashlight — and those are like the really industrial bright ones — in her face so I just went off and told them to leave her alone. That’s when other people started noticing how they were picking at the crowd. 

We were on the public way. They just kept pushing us back from the statue. We were on the sidewalk where they told us to be and they blinded a rabbi with tear gas or pepper spray. He couldn’t see where he was going. Finally we got a medic and the police officers kept pushing us back. I was really upset at that. One of them put the canister in our face trying to make us flinch.”

Iris Haastrup: I went to a protest on May 30 and this one, from my experience of what I saw comparing both of them, this one was a lot more violent. The police came prepared for violence. They didn’t come prepared for peace. 

All of my friends are OK. I texted them today and we left to go home together yesterday.” 

Patrick Romano: I later found out that I was getting filmed by Miracle, the activist from GoodKids MadCity. There’s a video going around from her livestream of me shouting my name and my birthday. She was filming me [and] that was when one of these cops smacked her in the mouth and knocked her teeth out. She was trying to make sure my identity was known as I was being taken by police. I’m so grateful to Miracle, someone I don’t even know, for doing that for me.

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Iris Haastrup: I don’t think the police are worthy of any space in our city. This summer has become a historic Red Summer in Chicago because of police violence, because of coronavirus and because of all the young Black people that had been victims of gun violence and the police has done nothing. Their attempts to do something will always fall flat because the police are the violence in the community.”

Citlali Arroyo: I was at the protest where the bridges were lifted on us [on May 30]. My partner and I were one of the last cars to get out. There was next to no [cellphone] signal because everything was just crazy. I wasn’t even aware that there was a curfew, let alone that the gates were going up. I felt trapped, and we were lucky to get out because right after we got out is when everyone started getting beaten.

Very few officers were wearing any masks for COVID at both protests [on May 30 and July 17]. Officers were spraying their own with gas and since they weren’t wearing [personal protective equipment] PPE, they got hurt. I don’t like the narrative that protestors were the ones causing damage or pain to police when it was not the case at all. I don’t understand why the mayor keeps thinking that doing anything good for our city means keeping the police. It’s just ridiculous. 

I don’t know how many more videos she needs to see. She keeps saying, ‘well, we’re going to look into that.’ Why aren’t you looking? We already have the videos. We already have the testimonials. Why aren’t you out there at the protest to see for yourself? I would like the mayor to recognize that public safety means EVERYONE wears a mask. Including cops and her affluent neighbors of the North Side, who refuse to take public health seriously.”

Kristiana Rae Colon, 34, a co-founder of #LetUsBreathe Collective: “Lori, the longer you allow police to wreak violence on the citizens of Chicago, the more you stain your legacy and humiliate yourself. The same youth you ignored when they marched for cops out of their schools were brutalized by CPD as they defended the statue of a genocidal murderer. Our movement will only grow, and until you listen to the demands of the movement, you are the target. And we will make sure you lose your job.”

Kwyn Riley, 26, organizer with BYP 100: I would tell Mayor Lori Lightfoot that she is a hypocrite. How can she look in the mirror knowing that she is not prioritizing the youth of this city? Kids were beaten senselessly yesterday. Kids. How could you allow that to happen? Defund the Police means investment into communities, which means Black Lives Matter.

Since when does a statue matter more than a life? Knowing Columbus is a representation of genocide and terrorism, you are perpetuating that same hatred on stolen land. Like, they cleaned that whole thing [the statue] up overnight. It’s absolutely insensitive.”

Patrick Romano: “What I would like to say to Lori Lightfoot is that, we know what side she’s on. It’s so clear. The whole reason that this protest evolved in the way it did is because Lori Lightfoot won’t even agree to take the fucking Columbus statue down. And so she had these cops protecting a hunk of rock of a rapist colonizer and beating people to protect a statue?

All these other protestors that got arrested, they need to drop the charges. They need reparations and to apologize to all of these people who were beaten— to Miracle who got her teeth knocked out. I mean, she deserves all the money, and no apology could ever make up for the trauma that I’m sure she has gone through and that a lot of other protestors went through last night. And we need CPAC, a civilian police accountability council, right now.”

Nick Ward, 38, member of the 48th Ward Neighbors for Justice: The Chicago Police Department escalated a protest that attempted to remove the Columbus statue in the south end of Grant Park. While reports have been that the protestors threw projectiles at the cops, the truth is that they were harmless water bottles that landed without incident. When protestors on bikes (myself included) attempted to protect the organizers’ efforts to remove the statue via a linked row of bikes, they were dispersed with pepper spray and batons. Some bikes were forcibly removed from their owners. I personally witnessed multiple officers escalating with force, I saw people crying in pain from being pepper-sprayed and multiple protestors with open head wounds gushing blood.

While the mayor may personally and politically disagree with the protestors tactics, the display of force and brutality from the CPD was absolutely shameful. Not one single person who participated in the rally, that I saw, intended to harm or inflicted real harm on anybody. When we were assaulted by the cops, the official paramedics stayed stationary and silent. No one who lives in the city deserves to be treated in such a way by publicly funded officials.”

Amika Tendaji, 39, organizer with UMedics, BLM Chicago and STOP (Southside Together Organizing for Power): That imprisoned, covered statue that no one can see anyway because it’s covered and now being fenced in, is a symbol of white supremacy that represents some of the ugliest parts of our past. The young people brutalized are our future. The incredible artists that spray-painted that statue were far too tactically savvy for police, so [they] took out their anger and aggression on young people doing no more than standing about. CPD and Lightfoot proved they serve and protect white supremacist capitalist ideology and will brutalize youth to do so. This is why Lightfoot and CPD will soon lose their jobs.”

Sean Hyland, 30: Lori, how dare you release a statement celebrating [the late] Rep. John Lewis’ life the morning after your [police] bloodied people for their disobedience to white supremacy. Had you been the mayor of Selma on Bloody Sunday, we have no doubt that Lewis would have been beaten under your directive. At yesterday’s action, your CPD choked and blinded us with a chemical weapon banned for use in war, assaulted us with batons and beat us with their fists.

At our celebration of emancipatory ethics, you uplifted the statue of a pedophile, rapist, murderer and slave trader. While we demanded the decolonization of Zhigaagoong and the abolition of policing, incarceration, surveillance and violence against Black and Indigenous people, you reaffirmed your commitment to the most vile human institutions and attributes and your willingness to maim anyone who expresses their humanity and love for the oppressed, marginalized and deliberately silenced.

Your perverse love for beating, gasing, jailing and dehumanizing folks fighting for justness and the liberation of Black and Brown communities is well known, and you once again aired your depraved indifference to human life at last night’s Black Indigenous solidarity rally. 

Every one of you has dedicated yourselves to an abhorrent, losing cause. Another world is on her way. One grounded in love and liberation. We’re ushering her in, we’re uplifting her.”

Iris Haastrup: If I could say anything to Lori Lightfoot, I think she’s a disgrace to the Black community. She disgusts me. The entire police department disgusts me. The fact that Lori Lightfoot tries to use her identity as being a Black lesbian, as a fellow Black queer person, it does nothing for me. Your identities don’t mean anything to me because you are an agent of the state that enacts harmful violence to Black people. 

I read a couple months back that about $1.6 billion [goes to the CPD budget]. That money, plus more, should be placed on the South and West sides of Chicago — not in the hands of specific Black business owners, but in the hands of actual people on the South and West sides. I think the police should be abolished, and not in a way that just says, ‘oh, we should just invest in social workers,’ but in a way that’s invested in Black and Indigenous [people]. And [there needs to be] a redistribution of land. 

I don’t know why people joke about the West Side not having grass, but that is a reality for people and we should have the opportunity to live in areas that produce life and produce collective wellbeing and unity for all of our people — not just for a small percent of our people.”

[Editor’s Note: In an effort to protect the identities of the most vulnerable, The TRiiBE used a photo illustration to accompany this piece]

Headshot of Tiffany Walden
is the editor-in-chief of The TRiiBE.