CHICAGO - An Italian-American organization has filed a lawsuit seeking to force the Chicago Park District to return a Christopher Columbus statue to its pedestal in the city’s Little Italy neighborhood, officials said Wednesday.
The statue in Arrigo Park on Chicago’s West Side, and two others elsewhere in the city, were removed last year after demonstrators swarmed a Columbus statue in Grant Park in a failed attempt to tear it down.
The lawsuit filed by the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans claims the removal of the Columbus monument in Little Italy violates a nearly 50-year-old agreement the group has with the Park District. Organization president Ron Onesti says the agreement says any alterations of the statue or plaza must have the written consent of the Columbus Statue Committee, a precursor to his organization.
"Removing the statue last year is a clear breach of our contract with the Park District," Onesti said.
At the time of the removal the Arrigo Park statue and the one in Grant Park, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office said their removals were temporary and in response to demonstrations that had become unsafe for both protesters and the police. A third statue of Columbus, which had stood on display on the South Side for nearly 130 years, was removed days later.
The statues became targets during protests in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. Protesters said the explorer doesn’t deserve veneration because of how he treated Indigenous peoples.
Plaintiff’s attorney Enrico Mirabelli said the organization tried to avoid taking the Park District to court, but the contract would have been nullified if they didn’t raise their legal grievances within a year. He added the Park District didn’t respond to a letter the organization delivered the district’s board of commissioners.
"We never received a reply," Mirabelli said. "We remain committed to finding a reasonable solution," Mirabelli said. "But no governing body and no individual is above the law. When you make a contract you are expect to follow the terms of the agreement."
The city’s Law Department declined to comment on a pending litigation and said it will review the lawsuit once received.