The damaged Lincoln bust at 69th Street and Wolcott Avenue. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times
Fran Spielman and Mitch Dudek
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Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) on Thursday accused President Donald Trump of emboldening vandals to set fire to a bust of Abraham Lincoln that has stood as a symbol of freedom in West Englewood for nearly a century.
Lopez said Trump’s widely condemned decision to twice blame “both sides” for the white nationalist rally that turned deadly in Virginia has emboldened haters.
“When you have a President who, from his point of moral authority as leader of the free world, condones the actions of white supremacists, neo-Nazis … when he refuses to refute what their actions are — you embolden people to continue,” Lopez said Thursday. “Now, you’re giving them a path to come out and be as anger-filled as they want to be.”
Lopez said he learned the Lincoln bust was spray-painted black two weeks ago, then vandalized again two days ago. In the second incident, the bust was “covered in tar, wrapped in roofing paper and set on fire,” the alderman said, noting that Chicago Police are investigating.
Lopez also has fired off an email to Cultural Affairs and Special Events Commissioner Mark Kelly requesting a copy of the city’s “public art program registry.”
The alderman wants to know how many other statues and paintings the city owns that may be vulnerable, either to defacement or as targets for removal because of their ties to Confederate figures.
And he wants to open a “public discussion on the fate” of those pieces “immediately and quickly” — before vigilantes take matters into their own hands.
One resident says he saw kids lighting fireworks off this bust of Abraham Lincoln on the Fourth of July. Ald. Ray Lopez, however, said he has no doubt that the damage was deliberate and tied to the debate that has raged across the country. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times
“I understand the deep-seated anger induced by those reminders of slavery and oppression and want our city to be ahead of the curve in addressing that emotion,” Lopez wrote in his email.
He added: “I was hoping we could get ahead of the curve and not behind the racist eight-ball that’s fueling a lot of the anger and demonstrations that we’re seeing in other parts of the country.”
Kelly could not be reached for comment.
A West Englewood resident interviewed Thursday speculated that some burn damage to the Lincoln bust may have been caused by fireworks set off on July 4th.
“People were out partying on the 4th of July and lighting fireworks off of it,” said Christopher Jackson, 22, who lives two blocks from the statue and saw the revelers also light newspapers on fire on top of the statue.
“It’s f—– up, honestly,” said Jackson, who works as a cook at a downtown eatery and chatted while waiting for a bus steps from the statue.
“You’d think people would appreciate it,” he said. “Abraham Lincoln is Abraham Lincoln. He’s one of the people who helped us. He freed the slaves. That’s a big one.”
Jackson suspects the vandals didn’t know the weathered statue, its nose chipped off, actually depicted Lincoln. “I didn’t even know until just now,” he said, adding that the statue seemed like another aspect of a blighted community dotted with run-down buildings and boarded-up homes.
“It’s insulting to leave it just like this with nobody trying to fix it,” he said.
Lopez, however, said he has no doubt that the damage was deliberate and tied to the debate that has raged across the country.
“I believe that what happened to Abraham Lincoln wasn’t just a random act of violence. It’s wasn’t just [plastered] with graffiti or tipped over. This was an intentional act to try to destroy this statue,” Lopez said. “The fire was intense. The soot is baked onto it. There was some planning and some effort to try and destroy this bust, which has been in the community for almost 100 years now.”