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Group Evaluating Chicago's Controversial Statues, Monuments Meets; Now-Removed Columbus Statues Remain Subjects Of Strong Feelings

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A group deciding the fates of dozens of Chicago statues and monuments met for the first time Thursday night.

Statues like those of Christopher Columbus have sparked protests and vandalism. But as CBS 2's Charlie De Mar reported, their future is not set in stone.

Last summer, the city temporarily removed three statues of Columbus – one in Grant Park, one in Arrigo Park in Little Italy, and one at 93rd Street and Exchange Avenue in South Chicago.

It will now be up to the Chicago Monuments Project advisory panel to decide what to do with the city's public art.

Attempts to tear down the Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park last summer ended with violent clashes between protesters and police. Mayor Lori Lightfoot eventually decided to, in her words, "temporarily" remove the statue in the middle of the night, along with those other two Columbus monuments.

"That moment was an important moment for me to see the statue of Columbus come down," said Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33rd).

Rodriguez watched as the Columbus statue came down. In the past, she has introduced an ordinance to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People's Day.

"It contributes a lot to all of this systemic racism – right?" Rodriguez said. "What is around this? How are we represented? How are our stories being told?"

Ron Onesti, president of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian-Americans, was not pleased about the removal of the Columbus statues at all.

"I can tell you, the Italian-American community firmly believes that we want the statues back," he said. "I can't imagine any other ethnic group would allow someone else to dictate what another ethnic group's heroes, or icons, or legends should be.

In response to the tension over the Columbus statutes, the Chicago Monuments Project was formed. They have identified more than 40 potentially problematic monuments in the city.

On Thursday night, they met online to discuss the issue.

The list of monuments goes well beyond the Columbus statues, and some of the ones the panel chose for review have drawn even broader pushback.

Among the other statues on the list are all five Chicago statues of Abraham Lincoln; the statues of Ulysses S. Grant and Benjamin Franklin in Lincoln Park, the statue of George Washington in Washington Park; the William McKinley statue in McKinley Park; the Statue of the Republic replica commemorating the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Jackson Park; the Fort Dearborn Massacre monument; and numerous statues, monuments, and other works that depict Native Americans.

The Washington statue has also both been vandalized over the past year, as has a statue of the Gen. Philip Henry Sheridan statue at Belmont Avenue and Lake Shore Drive that also appears on the list.

The Haymarket Riot Monument – depicting a police officer - is also on the list. According to the panel, it has been damaged more than any other work of public art.

The list also includes a long-controversial monument to fascist Italian politician Italo Balbo.

The committee said the 41 monuments were flagged for public discussion for a variety of issues:

  • Promoting narratives of white supremacy
  • Presenting inaccurate and/or demeaning characterizations of American Indians
  • Memorializing individuals with connections to racist acts, slavery, and genocide
  • Presenting selective, over-simplified, one-sided views of history
  • Not sufficiently including other stories, in particular those of women, people of color, and themes of labor, migration, and community building
  • Creating tension between people who see value in these artworks and those who do not

The city has created a website detailing all 41 monuments, and has included a feedback form for the public to share their thoughts.

"By taking them down, we are disrespecting and dishonoring the contributions that Italians and Italian-Americans have made to this country," Onesti said of the Columbus statues.

"I am really happy that we don't have the statue of Columbus up anymore," Rodriguez said.

It is unclear what, if anything, will be done to those more than 40 monuments that have been flagged.

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