Hundreds of people descended on downtown Chicago early Monday following a police shooting on the city’s South Side. Vandals smashed the windows of dozens of Mag Mile businesses and made off with merchandise, cash machines and anything else they could carry, police said.
“We are waking up in shock this morning … What happened in our city last night and this morning of course is deeply painful for every Chicagoan,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a Monday morning press conference with Police Superintendent David Brown.
The looting comes months after downtown businesses were already hit during protests against police brutality following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Lightfoot called the most recent looting “brazen and extensive criminal destruction” that were not connected to peaceful demonstrations.
“This is not legitimate 1st Amendment-protected speech. These were not poor people engaging in petty theft to feed themselves and their families,” Lightfoot said. “This was straight up-felony, criminal conduct.”
But some activists and community leaders say the situation is more complicated and further highlights systemic inequality in the city, specifically the mistreatment of minorities by law enforcement and City Hall’s focus on the downtown area for economic investments.
Brown said the Sunday afternoon shooting of the man who allegedly opened fire on officers apparently prompted a social media post that urged people form a “car caravan” and converge on the business downtown.
Some 400 additional officers were dispatched to the area after the department spotted the post. Over several hours, police made more than 100 arrests and 13 officers were injured, including one who was struck in the head with a bottle, Brown said.
Brown dismissed any suggestion that the chaos was part of an organized protest of the shooting, calling it “pure criminality” that included occupants of a vehicle opening fire on police who were arresting a man they spotted carrying a cash register.
No officers were wounded by gunfire, but a security guard and a civilian were hospitalized in critical condition after being shot, and five guns were recovered, he said.
“This was an act of violence against our police officers and against our city,” according to Brown, who said nine Chicago police officers have been shot at in the past seven days.
Videos of the vandalism showed huge crowds of people smashing their way into businesses and streaming out of the broken windows and doors with clothes and other merchandise. They loaded up vehicles, some moving slowly and deliberately, apparently not worried about being caught by police or being recorded by scores of cellphone cameras.
Vehicles drove away slowly, some leaving behind boxes of rocks that they had apparently brought to shatter the windows. Cash register drawers and clothes hangers were strewn about the streets, along with automatic teller machines that had been ripped from walls or pulled from inside businesses.
Stores miles from downtown were also ransacked, their parking lots littered with glass and boxes that once contained television sets and other electronics.
“This was obviously very orchestrated,” the Rev. Michael Pfleger, a prominent Roman Catholic priest and activist on the city’s South Side, told Chicago television station WBBM.
The mayhem brightened the national spotlight that has been on Chicago for weeks after a surge in gun violence that resulted in more homicides in July than any month in decades. President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly criticized the city’s handling of the violence, recently ordered more federal agents to Chicago to take part in what Attorney General William Barr called “classic crime fighting.”
The police shooting in Englewood
Brown said protests and looting were driven by “misinformation” following a Sunday afternoon police shooting in which officers wounded a 20-year-old man in Englewood. Brown said police opened fire after the man shot at police during a foot chase.
The United States Department of Justice singled out foot chases as a major cause of violent confrontations between police and citizens in its 2017 report on CPD. The independent monitor tasked with reviewing the city’s compliance with the court-ordered police reform plan known as a consent decree reported that CPD has begun tracking when officers engage in foot pursuits, but has failed to review those foot chases for any tactical or training concerns, as required by the consent decree.
Brown said the 20-year-old man had a long criminal history, including arrests for domestic battery and child endangerment, and a gun was recovered at the scene.
Further ratcheting up the tensions in the city was a video that circulated on Facebook that falsely claimed that Chicago police had shot and killed a 15-year-old boy. Posted at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, the video shows upset residents confronting officers near the scene where officers shot and wounded the adult suspect. By Monday morning, it had been watched nearly 100,000 times.
Police blame prosecutors
Witnesses to the unrest described a scene that bore a striking resemblance to the unrest that unfolded when protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis devolved into chaos. Brown suggested that the lenient treatment of people arrested then played a role in what happened Monday.
“Not many of those cases were prosecuted to the full extent,” he said. “These looters, these thieves, these criminals being emboldened by (the lack of) consequences … emboldened to do more.”
At the same news conference, Lightfoot addressed looters directly, telling them that police had collected a lot of surveillance video and other evidence that will be used to arrest and prosecute as many as possible.
“We saw you, and we will come after you,” she warned.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx disputed any suggestion that her office had shied away from prosecuting people who were arrested for ransacking businesses weeks ago.
“That is simply not true,” she said. “Those cases are coming to court now.”
Foxx also said that about 70% of the cases that police brought to her office from that time were for misdemeanors or city ordinance violations, not felonies.
The havoc left downtown residents rattled.
“I’ve lived here for 20 years, and it’s getting scary, because you can’t walk out now,” said Alan Freeman, who lives in the downtown area. “You don’t know if they’re going to start with the people walking on the streets, instead of the stores.”
Train and bus service into downtown was temporarily suspended. Bridges over the Chicago River were lifted, preventing travel to and from the downtown area, and state police blocked some expressway ramps into downtown. Access was to be restored around 8 a.m.
Brown said the department would maintain a huge presence in the downtown, which will have restricted access from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., until further notice. He also said all days off had been canceled for police officers until further notice.
Gov. JB Pritzker, at a morning press conference with Lightfoot, said state police were assisting Chicago police in closing roads and access, in an effort to quell the looting.
“We’ll continue to offer state police. …We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to support the city,” Pritzker said.
He was critical of the looting, and echoed Lightfoot’s comments about ensuring those responsible were arrested: “Criminals need to be held accountable, there’s no doubt about it. …We had 13, I believe 13, Chicago police officers who were injured last night. This is criminal activity.”
Some young activists denounced overnight looting along Michigan Avenue. But they also called it a reaction to years of disinvestment in the city’s black neighborhoods, saying those neighborhoods have also been looted, with businesses and city government extracting dollars and giving too little back.
“These communities are looted,” said Ja’Mal Green, 25, an activist and former mayoral candidate. “Their schools, their businesses are looted—they don’t have the same programming or centers or gyms and way of life that other communities in predominantly white areas have.”
Green said the city should not be shocked by a repeat from May looting.
“The city didn’t move forward anything new since George Floyd as far as any new programming, new restructuring of resources, any ways that they were going to get better as a city so this wouldn’t happen again,” said Green, who called a press conference.
Joining him was 19-year-old Jalen Kobe, who graduated last year form one of the city’s top high schools.
“Any successful slave rebellion, any successful overthrowing of a non-representative government for black people has had to come through burning things down,” Kobe said.
WBEZ reporters Hunter Clauss, Patrick Smith, Tony Arnold, Linda Lutton and Vivian McCall contributed to this report.