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Chicago Police Department officials released a surveillance video late Monday, taken with existing closed-circuit city cameras monitoring Chicago’s Grant Park, showing a peaceful protest being used as cover to instigate an all-out riot that injured dozens of police officers and led to several arrests.
The video, taken last Friday during a protest to remove a statue of Christopher Columbus located in Grant Park, shows a group of “protesters” suddenly break off from a larger, peaceful demonstration, and move under the cover of trees. Suddenly, dozens of black umbrellas open to shield the group from CCTV cameras.
CPD says the action was pre-planned, and that, while shielded from view by the umbrellas, the “protesters” changed from street clothes to all black and distributed items, including frozen water bottles and fireworks, which they then used to confront Chicago police officers guarding the Columbus statue. In the video, a man in a white shirt dumps out what appears to be bags of these makeshift weapons.
Nearly 50 officers sustained injuries in the following melee. One officer suffered a broken eye socket, per CPD. At least 18 protesters were arrested.
“Police were caught off-guard by the violence and 49 officers were injured after projectiles and fireworks were thrown at them. Eighteen had to be treated at area hospitals, and officers have now been ordered to wear their protective gear at all future protests,” ABC 7 Chicago reported Monday.
CPD released the footage after officers were accused of using excessive force to break up the “peaceful” protesters. One of the demonstrators, an 18-year-old woman, claims to have lost a tooth in a confrontation with officers as they were clearing the park. Her account of the incident, however, is in question after “a pro-police group” released a series of videos appearing to show the woman “provoking” police, per Chicago’s NBC affiliate.
“What began as a peaceful protest at Grant Park Friday evening devolved into a very dangerous situation, in which mob action deliberately sought to injure officers,” Chicago police superintendent David Brown said in a press conference on Monday, announcing CPD’s release of the footage.
“Peaceful demonstrations have been hijacked by organized mobs,” he added. “We just don’t want to believe people would act this way toward us. That they would take advantage of us. That they would take advantage of our sacred right, the First Amendment. I have ordered all of our officers to wear any and all protective gear when protests occur.”
Brown added that Chicago police were investigating whether the violence had been planned alongside the protests. Evidence suggests the incident may have been heavily coordinated, and police believe that “PVC pipe used to hold the Black Lives Matters banners had been sharpened,” per ABC 7 Chicago. The pipes were then used as weapons to “jab at officers” blocking access to the statue.
“That’s not peaceful protest, that’s anarchy, and we are going to put that down,” Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, told media. “We are actively investigating, and we will bring those people to justice. We want people to feel safe.”