CHICAGO (CBS) — Two prominent Chicago statues of Christopher Columbus might have been removed this week, but the issues that sparked protests where they once stood in Grant Park and Little Italy remain.
A few hundred pro-police demonstrators attending a “Back the Blue” march in Grant Park faced off with Black Lives Matter protesters demanding the city reduce funding for the Chicago Police Department, and devote more money to social service programs.
The scene in Grant Park was a stark contrast to eight days ago, when a protest at the Christopher Columbus statue turned violent, as some protesters began pelting police with rocks, frozen water bottles, and firecrackers.
That statue and another in Arrigo Park were removed on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s orders early Friday.
In anticipation of various and conflicting protests planned across the city on Saturday, the city not only raised the Michigan and Wabash bridges over the Chicago River, but set up several metal barricades, and deployed salt trucks on streets where rallies and marches were expected, in an effort to control traffic.
The “Back the Blue” rally in Grant Park appeared to be the first organized pro-police rally in Chicago in recent weeks.
Several groups of officers were deployed on standby as that rally went on, and about halfway through the event, a small group of counter-protesters arrived, several of them saying they had walked down the street from other protests that were happening, including a Black Lives Matter rally.
It resulted in two distinct but loud groups with starkly different views on police facing off in Grant Park, with police officers standing between them in an effort to keep the peace.
Man from Back the Blue rally: “Where are you and the cowbells when the gangbangers are shooting each other!”
— Marissa Parra (@MarParNews) July 25, 2020
The two groups also had very different messages about the Columbus statues that were taken down this week, with the “Back the Blue” group calling the removal of the monuments to the Italian explorer a “shame,” while the counter-protesters praised their removal, but feared it might be only temporary.
The only thing they seemed to agree on was their dismay for local leadership. Both sides particularly admonished Mayor Lori Lightfoot for not doing enough to support their causes.
“We feel like the police are way overfunded, and we want them to defund the police, and invest in communities,” protester Jackie Alfirevic said.
Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara, who has called Lighfoot a “coward” for ordering the Columbus statues taken down in the middle of the night, said the mayor and other elected leaders in Chicago don’t do enough to support rank-and-file police.
“The police matter. The police are the only line of defense between lawlessness and law and order, and it’s not going very well right now, because the politicians are not backing up the work that the men and women of the Chicago Police Department are doing. They’re just not,” Catanzara said.
While there were some skirmishes between the two groups of protesters, compared to last week, the situation remained largely peaceful on both sides.
About an hour after the “Back the Blue” rally ended, a Black Lives Matter rally kicked off in Grant Park.
— Marissa Parra (@MarParNews) July 26, 2020
After their rally in Grant Park, those activists marched through downtown, sitting down in the intersection of Ida B. Wells Drive and Clark Street, and again at Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street.
While there was a heavy police presence during their march, some Black Lives Matter protesters were determined to keep the peace themselves. When a group of marchers saw someone throw a flaming projectile, they quickly rushed to make sure it didn’t start a larger fire.
The march continued past the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where inmates tapped on the windows to offer their support.
The sound is clearer in this one- that tapping is the sound of prisoners from Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Center showing solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters outside @cbschicago pic.twitter.com/F7GxXDLN8O
— Marissa Parra (@MarParNews) July 25, 2020
The marchers said taking down the Columbus statues won’t end racism, so it won’t be the end of their protests.
Earlier in the day, members of the group Refuse Fascism held a rally at Federal Plaza, and marched to immigration offices on Ida B. Wells Drive. The group is protesting President Donald Trump’s move to send federal agents to Chicago, and what the activists call a “fascist police state” in the city.
There was no sign of federal agents at any of the protests. Many activists have feared the additional federal agents Trump is deploying to Chicago would be used against protesters, much like in Portland, Oregon; but the president and Homeland Security officials said they will only be assisting with local law enforcement efforts to reduce violent crime.
A handful of other demonstrations also were being held in other neighborhoods around the city Saturday afternoon.