As Chicago prepares for any possible protests following the verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, Illinois National Guard members are being deployed to help support city police.
Officials said about 125 guard members were asked to start helping Tuesday to support the Chicago Police Department, as a jury considers the fate of the Minneapolis police officer accused of killing George Floyd, a death that prompted protests and riots in Chicago and nationwide last summer.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said guard members are “on standby” and won’t be activated “unless we need them.”
“I think we’ve got a really robust plan in place,” Lightfoot said. “I feel like we, as a city, are way better prepared than we had been to keep our residents safe.”
Last week, Lightfoot said she activated a “neighborhood protection plan,” which cancelled days off for some police officers and deployed more officers to the streets.
Gov. JB Pritzker said in a release Monday that the guard would be here to help manage street closures, but wouldn’t interfere with “peaceful protestors exercising their First Amendment rights.” He said he sent the officers at Lightfoot’s request, who asked for them “out of an abundance of caution.”
Pritzker also asked the Illinois State Police to support Chicago police with an unspecified number of additional troopers. State police on Tuesday confirmed they’re working with Chicago police, but didn’t offer any other details.
“The Illinois State Police will work closely with Chicago Police Department, other local law enforcement and the Illinois National Guard to protect peaceful protests and keep the community safe,” said ISP Director Brendan F. Kelly.
“We appreciate the assistance of these agencies in our continuing mission to protect people, peaceful protests and property.”
Chicago activists earlier this month told WBEZ they were closely following the trial and were expecting mass demonstrations whenever the case is decided, regardless of the outcome.
Lightfoot encouraged people to express their First Amendment rights, but also gave a warning to people who might have plans to loot businesses or damage other property.
“Don’t test us,” Lightfoot said. “We are prepared, and we are ready to arrest and bring to prosecution, anyone who would dare try to take the dreams of our small businesses by looting.”
WBEZ reporters Tony Arnold and Becky Vevea contributed.