What Happened July 17?

A document of the conflict in Grant Park

Cover photo by Mateo Zapata

Content Warning: Discussion, images, and videos of police violence.

On July 17, Chi-Nations Youth Council, Black Lives Matter Chicago, BYP100, and a dozen other groups organized a Black and Indigenous solidarity rally at Buckingham Fountain and promoted it on social media as an opportunity to “dance, sing, party, and celebrate ourselves.” Speakers addressed the crowd, and Chicago rapper Ric Wilson performed “Fight Like Ida B & Marsha P” while a crowd danced and sang along. The mood, said one attendee, was joyous.

Following the rally, demonstrators marched to the southern end of Grant Park, where a phalanx of Chicago police stood guard around the 1933 bronze statue of Christopher Columbus, which was protectively cocooned in a plastic tarp. A small contingent of the crowd—shielding themselves with umbrellas, Hong Kong style—attempted to drive the police away with a barrage of water bottles, pop cans, and fireworks that CPD later claimed injured eighteen officers. The police initially retreated, and the crowd moved onto the ground around the statue. Some protesters covered Columbus’ pedestal with graffiti while others attempted to tear it down.

Within less than twenty minutes, CPD returned in greater numbers, clad in riot gear. Officers then used force to clear the area: videos posted online and provided to the Weekly show police attacking nonviolent protesters, journalists, and bystanders alike with batons, pepper spray, and fists. Police slashed cyclists’ bicycle tires and confiscated dozens more bikes, also apparently at random. Multiple officers removed or obscured their badges. One video showed what appears to be a police handgun that had been dropped on the ground, unnoticed for nearly a minute in the melee. The police meted out injury to dozens of protesters, many of whom were left bloody and bruised; one reported a broken hand. At least one journalist posted a video of himself being shoved and chased by an irate police officer despite having CPD-issued press credentials.

In the days following the attack, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) announced it is investigating more than twenty allegations of misconduct by CPD that evening, ranging from excessive force and unnecessary use of pepper spray to denying legal counsel to protesters, at least fourteen of whom were arrested.

Miracle Boyd became the high-profile face of the police response to the protest after an officer knocked her front teeth out. Boyd, an eighteen-year-old CPS graduate, incoming DePaul University freshman and organizer with GoodKids MadCity, had spoken at the rally and was attempting to use a cell phone to record police arresting a protester when an officer struck her. Via a Freedom of Information Act request, the Weekly obtained documents from COPA that identify Nicholas Jovanovich as the officer who “punched [redacted] in the mouth, knocking out some of her teeth.” According to the Citizens Police Data Project, Jovanovich has at least twenty-two other recorded uses of force—more than ninety-six percent of officers in the department. At a July 20 press conference, Boyd said the officer should be fired: “No matter what I said, I did not deserve to be attacked.”

At another press conference the same day, Mayor Lori Lightfoot initially blamed the confrontation on “vigilantes” who came looking “for a fight.” CPD later showed surveillance videos that focused on the people in the crowd who threw objects at police during the initial confrontation. “That’s not peaceful protest, that’s anarchy,” Lightfoot said. “And we are going to put that down.”

Citing violence in the neighborhoods—and after Chicago Fraternal Order of Police president John Catanzara sent him a letter requesting federal help—President Trump threatened to send federal agents to Chicago. Lightfoot initially said “we don’t need federal agents without insignia taking people off the street and holding them unlawfully.” (Unidentified federal agents in unmarked vans were seen arresting protesters in Portland.) But later that week, she assented to about 150 agents coming to assist ongoing investigations, pointedly drawing a distinction between them and “troops…who come from the military.”

On July 23, Lightfoot ordered city workers to take down the Grant Park statue, a move she said was temporary; two other statues of Columbus elsewhere in the city were subsequently removed.

The Weekly put out a call for first-person accounts from the June 17 protest and what followed. The mayor and Superintendent David Brown blamed the violence directed toward police that day on a rogue group of coordinated protestors, and framed the police counterattack as the inevitable response to violent, left-wing provocations. But according to accounts the Weekly received from dozens of people who were there, police violence was widespread, indiscriminate, and at times reckless. Police targeted peaceful protesters along with so-called vigilantes.

In the pages that follow, we offer a collage of what happened when police returned to the Columbus statue, drawing on first-person accounts, video recordings, and publicly available data. (In the instances when speakers wished to remain anonymous, we respected that wish, though their identities are known to the Weekly.) As communities continue to organize resistance to and demand a reimagining of policing, we will seek to collect more first-person accounts of other key incidents in this remarkable moment of Chicago history.


“It's hard to pinpoint what, for the cops, triggers an escalation, but more and more cops kept showing up, and those of us in the crowd were linking arms and surrounding the statue and trying to prevent police from infiltrating. They were kind of shifting around the perimeter of the statue, but it did sort of feel like we were surrounded."

Jocelyn Wilcox

"Then all the reinforcements came on the outside and just kept pouring in throughout the rest of the night. There were more bike cops, they were forming a perimeter but eventually those guys left and were replaced just with riot cops that had batons out. And they were keeping their distance for a while, but there was a brief clash around 7:30pm with some cops. You can see them hitting people with batons, pushing us around. They were stepping on bikes, trying to destroy them and steal them. And we had our bikes at the front of the line to help protect us. At one point I saw a cop drop his gun. It was on the ground. I did not see it physically drop. It looked like the standard police pistol. I can't say how long it was on the ground. I started recording right after I saw it there and then my video ends twenty-seven seconds later with a cop appearing to see something on the ground and jogging toward the area.”

Watch video of this incident. (Content warning: police violence and strong language)


“While in the bike line, a cop brandishing a knife attempted to slash my tires. Once they decided to break the bike line we were pepper sprayed. Cops had violently broken in from another section and we were eventually ushered to the side. They continued to charge us with bikes who were trying to form a barricade. They had snatched and thrown lots of peoples bikes—I had an officer tell me, ‘I don’t want your bike, just get the fuck out of here’ as he kicked in my bike to get me to move backwards, leaving my legs bruised. Someone next to me was pleading for them to stop which caused an officer to charge and attack her more. At one point everyone around me was choking and gagging.”

Watch video of this incident. (Content warning: strong language)

Photo below by Mateo Zapata

Meghan Hasset

“By the time we formed a line of bicycles to shield people closer to the statue, cops in full riot gear had assembled all around us. For a while, nothing happened as some protesters attempted to pull down the statue. Suddenly, there was a commotion towards the entrance of the park. I saw massive amounts of pepper spray in the air and batons swinging, and as police broke through the crowd and grew closer, they were throwing anyone they came across to the ground and indiscriminately shoving anyone in their vicinity. I witnessed a man with long brown hair being tossed to the ground by police. As he sat there, looking dazed, a cop walked over to him and cracked him in the head with a baton. The sound was disgusting. Myself and another cyclist rushed over to him and pulled him towards the grass, calling for a medic. We then shielded the medic and the protester with our bikes from further violence. That's when cops began rushing down the hill from Roosevelt into the park.”

Watch video of this incident. (Content warning: police violence and strong language)

Lucy Leith

“As a person with a bike, I was standing in line with other bikers as cops started marching toward me and the folks around me. This was shortly after the person climbing the statue managed to get rope around it. The cops in full riot gear shoved my bike to the ground, consequently shoving me to the ground. I remember getting up again only to be shoved down again, hitting my head (luckily in a helmet) on the pavement. They sprayed my face, neck, and back. Medics rushed in to pull me out and flushed my eyes. My friend managed to find me while I was with a medic, with my bike and backpack. The burning on my face and back intensified, then I had a seizure, and a couple other protestors or medics carried me away from where more cops were moving in because I couldn't physically move. My friend and a medic stayed with me until I was able to stand and breathe normally again, and made sure I had enough water, a new mask, snacks, and medical after-care supplies to take home.”

Photo below by Mateo Zapata


“They took my sister's goggles off—her goggles to protect her from the pepper spray. And they sprayed it directly into her eyes. So one of the officers—there were a couple of them there and they had their badge numbers covered—they said  ‘back up, we don't want to hurt you.’ And then his colleague to the right of him, that's when he grabbed my sister's goggles. And he sprayed directly into her face and … there's just so much happening. People are yelling ‘medics,’ and they're spraying medics in the face as well. They're directly, literally going up to them and just spraying them super close to the face.”

Photo below by Mateo Zapata

Rae Flynn

“Everyone was angry and yelling. We linked arms and stood behind the bikes. One officer tore a bike away from the front and tossed it over the heads of the front line, hitting me and other protesters with the bike. I watched a police officer push a girl backwards over her bike and down the steep hill. She was yelling at him because he was not wearing a mask. Only twenty-five percent of them were. He got right up in her face and started to yell back at her that he would ‘fuck her up.’ When he pushed her, he laughed as the medics rushed over to her. His colleagues did too. Shortly after I witnessed the same cop pepper spray a medic maybe six inches from her face who was pouring water in someone else's eyes.“

Watch video of a similar incident of an officer throwing a bike at a protester. (Content warning: police violence and strong language)

Photo below by Diego Morales

Luis Aldair

“I was in the medical team that day. Since I’m DACA, I can’t really risk a lot, so I’m just behind the scenes. But the reason I had to get a little more involved than planned was because this person had a bike and this police officer had that person pinned down and kept punching him in the face. So I was just trying to talk to the police officer, and he wouldn’t stop, he just kept on going.… So I tried to throw myself in there hoping that they would just hit my back or somewhere it wouldn’t hurt as much. Then that cop’s buddy came right behind him with a white pole and that’s when he hit me in the head. So I got up and I saw that he was whacking people with a white pole that he found on the floor. Then he saw that I was bleeding, and he started walking back. Then I felt it dripping, and I got up and went towards him and was like, “Hey man, you fucked up, because at this point you know you’re no longer serving the people, you’re terrorizing people now.” Then I said, “Actually let me grab that badge number,” and he turned around so I couldn't see his star, and he grabbed the pole and threw it as far away from him as possible. After that I got pulled back by the medics.”


“There was a situation where I saw one cop tap another cop on the shoulder and tell him to back off. He was ready to keep swinging and shoving. He was also smirking and mocking the protesters while he shoved them. He is pictured in the photo with no visible badge number. I saw at least a dozen officers with their badge numbers covered or badges removed.”

Watch video of this incident. (Content warning: strong language)


“I'm just standing there and a white-shirted commander walks up to me, and he looks me in the face and he says the words ‘I don't want to have to beat you.’ At this point, I'm alone. I am standing. I am no way threatening anyone with my bike. I have done nothing to provoke this.  And I look him in the face and I say, ‘I don't want that, but I am peaceful.’ And another officer has suddenly popped up on his right, my left and proceeds to beat my arms, my hands on my bike. I remember watching the first hit come down on my left hand, which was holding onto my bike seat. He beat my hands and then all of a sudden I'm seeing from my right, this commander's left, another officer steps in with mace. My bike is being ripped from my hands and I'm maced directly in the face. I then fall back, screaming. And another protester actually managed to step out and grab me and he's holding me and pulling me back into sort of like the larger group,  around the statue saying, "I've got you, I've got you."


“I went to protest … because I am Potawatomi and I wanted to show up in solidarity with other Natives and our Black relatives. A cop broke my hand with a baton because I wasn’t moving in a bike barricade. And he tried to throw my bike after he broke my hand, but I held onto it and swung it back to me. He then got flustered and backed up. I literally wasn’t doing anything but holding a line with some friends on our bikes and standing in a public park.”

Photo below by Mateo Zapata


“No one was advancing towards the cops, the cops weren't moving either, we were just standing, holding ground. More and more white shirts were arriving. They were talking to each other. Then I saw two people in full military gear coming. A protester in my cluster yelled ‘SWAT is here, SWAT brought chemicals, they have chemicals,’ but no one moved. We stood there with our arms linked and we chanted ‘don't do it, don't do it,’ and it seemed like without breaking stride the SWAT agent started spraying and spraying orange mist. He swept from south to north and I saw his face crinkle up. It looked like the spray was at face level. We ducked down with our arms still linked and I shut my eyes tight. I could feel the spray splatter all over me. I could hear people on either side of me screaming, ‘Oh my god!’" People's arms got unlinked. I couldn't see anything because of the spray. I couldn't breathe. I was yelling the name of the person I was with and I grabbed her hand and we tried to get out of range.”

Watch video of this incident. (Content warning: police violence and strong language)

Aaron Montemayor Walker

“By 8pm, another group of both CPD officers, white shirts, and some camouflaged individuals began beating and macing anyone within ten feet of them as they moved into the crowd. This is when the second [video] was taken, with the fifty-plus police on the sidewalk macing people at point-blank range and beating individuals who were on the ground covering their heads and bodies as officers approached the statue.”

Watch video of this incident. (Content warning: police violence and strong language)

Photo below by Mateo Zapata


“Around 8:00pm, the police forced their way through the line of cyclists to the south. They went up the hill, then advanced on the rest of us from above. They yelled 'move twenty feet back or you’ll lose your bikes!’ We tried to hold the line to protect the protesters beneath us, but when they physically pushed us, we began slowly backing up. When I was sure we'd retreated much more than twenty feet, I stopped and said ‘that's been more than twenty feet!’ The officer pushing me backward said ‘you're gonna lose the bike!’ He grabbed my bike and tried to pull it from my hands. I held on tight, and after a moment of struggle, he stopped pulling and just threw me and the bike away from him. My sister said I flew about five feet down the hill.”

Watch video of officers clearing the hill. (Content warning: police violence and strong language)

Meghan Hassett

“Eventually, the cops retook the statue, leaving a wake of injured, bleeding, screaming, blinded protesters in their wake. I saw a young woman on the ground with a messed-up ankle who couldn't walk, and cops were still coming to surround the park on Roosevelt Road. We called a medic, and again I stood by with my broken bike as he taped up her foot. Then I saw [outgoing Chief of Patrol] Fred Waller, the big boss man of all the patrol officers, give the order to clear the park. At first cops were not using violence as people left the park, and I thought we were going to be safe from further brutality. I was thrown to the ground again while exiting the park and my bicycle was taken. When I left the park, I tried to ask the police why they took my bike and how I could get it back. They told me that what happened to me was my choice because I was there, and that I should pick better crowds to hang out with instead of hanging out with violent people.”

Photo below by Mateo Zapata