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Columbus Statues In Grant Park, Arrigo Park Covered In Plastic Wrap To 'Discourage Vandalism'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The statues of Christopher Columbus in Grant Park and Arrigo Park have been seen covered with plastic wrap Monday.

The wrap covered the entire base and pedestal of the Grant Park statue, which is located near the Museum Campus.

The Chicago Park District told CBS 2's Marissa Parra it has covered the statues "to protect them and discourage vandalism."

The statues were covered up last Wednesday with the tarps, the Park District said. The district said it is not known how long they will be covered.

A week ago Saturday, the Grant Park statue was spray-painted with terms like "BLM" and "genocide" – and in one spot with red paint that was left dripping like blood over the inscription that credits Columbus as the "discoverer of America."

In that incident, police arrested and charged a woman, Kaitlyn O'Keefe, with misdemeanor criminal defacement of property. But police said felony charges were denied by the Cook County State's Attorney's office.

Other statues were also targeted, including another Christopher Columbus statue in Arrigo Park, at 801 S. Loomis St. on the Near West Side, which the Park District told CBS 2 has also been covered in plastic wrap.

The Park District said the Columbus statue in Grant Park was vandalized once, the Arrigo Park statue twice.

Also targeted with spray paint recently, though not reported to be covered, was a statue of George Washington in Washington Park.

The George Washington statue was marked in red paint with the words "slave owner."

Activists have condemned the Italian explorer's treatment of indigenous people after his arrival in the West Indies.

Some protesters say now is the time to address all traces of white supremacy and the leaders who once played a role. Thus, statues of controversial figures around the country have tumbled and a Columbus statue has even been beheaded, and petitions to take down Columbus statues across Chicago have surfaced online.

One petition, with more than 1,000 signatures, said Columbus "paved the way for the expansion of slavery" in America, and it's now "time to stop putting people like him on literal pedestals."

But the petition against the Italian Columbus did not sit well with residents of Little Italy, who took matters into their own hands – standing guard over the Columbus statue in Arrigo Park after it was also painted a week ago Friday night.

Asked this past Thursday if the city and the Chicago Park District should take down statues of Columbus, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the controversy should instead be used to teach young people about the nation's full history.

"I have been watching with great interest on the debate that's been going on around Confederate monuments, and there was a black historian – and I don't remember his name - but he said, and I think he's right, that we can use this moment as an opportunity to not try to erase history, but embrace it full on," she said. "There was a lot of harm that happened over the arc of the history of this country, beginning with the original sin of slavery, and it's way past time that we have a reckoning on that. But I think we also have to recognize that our history, both in this country and our city, is rich and diverse and the thing that we need to do is do what I think the organizers of the Columbus Day Parade have done, which is invite many people of different backgrounds, different perspectives, to participate in what is really a people's celebration."

Earlier this year, Lightfoot opposed plans by some aldermen to change the Columbus Day holiday in Chicago to Indigenous People's Day, just days after the Chicago Board of Education voted to make the change to Chicago Public Schools' calendars.

The mayor said it's time for elected leaders to try to unite people, because there are "too many divisive moments" in the current political environment.

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