Christopher Columbus statues taken down at 2 Chicago parks

A statue of Christopher Columbus in downtown Chicago's Grant Park was taken down early Friday, a week after protesters trying to topple the monument to the Italian explorer clashed with police.

Italian explorer blamed for launching genocide of Indigenous people in the Americas

A work crew removes the Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park in the early hours of Friday. The statue has drawn chaotic protests in the city, including one last Friday when protesters against racial injustice tried to topple the monument. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/The Associated Press)

A statue of Christopher Columbus in downtown Chicago's Grant Park was taken down early Friday, a week after protesters trying to topple the monument to the Italian explorer clashed with police.

Crews used a large crane to remove the statue from its pedestal as a small crowd gathered to watch. The crowd cheered and passing cars honked as the statue came down at about 3 a.m. local time. Several work trucks were seen in the area, but it was unclear where the statue would be taken.

A second statue of Columbus was also removed at about 5:30 a.m. Friday from Arrigo Park in Chicago's Little Italy neighbourhood.

The Associated Press sent an email and left a telephone message Friday seeking comment from Mayor Lori Lightfoot's office.

Plans to remove the Grant Park statue were first reported Thursday night by the Chicago Tribune and the removal followed hours of vocal confrontations between opponents and supporters of the statue. On July 17, protesters had clashed with police, who used batons to beat people and made arrests after they say protesters targeted them with fireworks, rocks and other items.

Police walk around at the site of the covered Christopher Columbus statue on July 17 after protesters attempted to topple the statue located in Chicago's Grant Park as part of a movement to remove statues of slave owners, colonizers and Confederate symbols. (Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times/The Associated Press)

"This statue coming down is because of the effort of Black and Indigenous activists who know the true history of Columbus and what he represents," Stefan Cuevas-Caizaguano, a resident watching the removal, told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Both the Grant Park and Arrigo Park statues were vandalized last month. Statues of Columbus have also been toppled or vandalized in other U.S. cities as protesters have called for their removal, saying that he is responsible for the genocide and exploitation of Indigenous people in the Americas.

Pasquale Gianni of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans said the mayor had told him before their removal that both statues would be moved and temporarily housed elsewhere for public safety reasons.

"The Italian American community feels betrayed. The Mayor's Office is giving into a vocal and destructive minority. This is not how the Democratic process is supposed to work," he told WLS-TV.

The removals come amid a plan by U.S. President Donald Trump to dispatch federal law enforcement agents to the city to respond to gun violence, prompting worries that the surge will inhibit residents' ability to hold demonstrations. A collection of activist groups had filed suit Thursday, seeking to block federal agents to combat violent crime from interfering in or policing protests.

State officials in Oregon had sued for similar requests following the arrival of federal law enforcement due to nearly two months of protests in Portland since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Confederate monuments gone from Virginia state capitol

The state of Virginia, meanwhile, has removed from its iconic state capitol the busts and a statue honouring Confederate generals and officials. That includes a bronze statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee positioned in the same spot where he stood to assume command of the state's armed forces in the Civil War nearly 160 years ago.

Workers haul away a bust of Thomas J. 'Stonewall' Jackson past the statue of Robert E. Lee in the Old House Chamber inside the Virginia state capitol in Richmond, Va., on Thursday. All busts and plaques relating to the Confederacy were removed. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch/The Associated Press)

They are the latest Confederate symbols to be removed or retired in the weeks since the death of Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer, which sparked a nationwide protest movement.

Virginia House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, a Democrat, quietly ordered the Lee statue and busts of generals J.E.B. Stuart and Stonewall Jackson, as well as Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and others removed from the historic Old House Chamber. A moving crew worked through the night Thursday — carefully removing the monuments and their plaques and loading them into a truck and taking them to an undisclosed location.

Designed by Thomas Jefferson, the Virginia state capitol was the first state capitol to open after the American Revolution and was used as the Confederacy's capitol during much of the Civil War.