After looting, vandalism and violence raged across Chicago over the weekend, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday morning called the scene “heart-wrenching” as she disputed claims that City Hall didn’t deploy enough cops to protect neighborhoods.
The first-term mayor spoke at the city’s emergency command center, flanked by city commissioners to provide an update on clean-up efforts and police manpower over the weekend. Visibly emotional public officials grappled with how to contain the civil unrest that Lightfoot said “spread like wildfire” following the death of George Floyd — while also trying to keep a lid on the spread of COVID-19.
As of Monday morning, City Hall said the downtown Loop area, which was one scene of looting and protests over the weekend, will remain closed to the general public. CTA buses and trains, which are now running after an immediate shutdown Sunday night, are bypassing the central business district.
But it's unclear whether the weekend destruction will delay the city's efforts to cautiously ease its coronavirus restrictions and begin to reopen businesses. The city had been set to move into Phase 3 of Lightfoot’s five-phase reopening plan on Wednesday, which would allow nonessential retailers to open and restaurants to begin serving customers outside.
Lightfoot said city workers are still assessing the damage to determine whether the city can move ahead with that timeline. The mayor said she feels for the shop owners who were eagerly preparing to reopen after months of being shut down by the state’s stay-at-home order.
“Of course I'm concerned about businesses all over the city who were preparing, and I saw the additional resources that they were putting in to opening up their businesses,” Lightfoot said. “And for many of those people, all that effort, all those resources were reduced to kindling, went down in flames.”
Lightfoot said that, in particular, the looters’ attacks on black-owned businesses on Chicago’s South and West sides was “nothing short of devastating,” particularly during protests against the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody.
Rosa Escareno, head of Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs And Consumer Protection, said her department will continue to work with local chambers of commerce and that her staff will be walking neighborhood commercial corridors with business leaders to assess the damage. Given the high volume of 911 calls, she encouraged business owners to lodge complaints of damage through 311.
“These are families that rely on these jobs: that corner store, that local shoe shop, that local motor vehicle shop that has now been completely gutted,” Escareno said with heavy emotion.
Lightfoot also took offense Monday morning to criticism that the Chicago Police Department was prioritizing security in the downtown business district over the city’s neighborhoods.
“The looting spread like a wildfire all over the South and West sides,” the mayor said. The number of 911 calls escalated as the weekend violence spread across the city. Lighfoot said there were 1,000 calls every 30 minutes on Sunday, and in the late afternoon and evening, those calls reached over 2,000 every 30 minutes. About 10,000 of those emergency calls over the weekend were for looting, she said.
“If we had a police department three times the size, it would have been difficult to keep up with all the calls we had yesterday,” Lightfoot said.
Police Superintendent David Brown said nearly 700 people were arrested on Sunday alone, mostly for looting on the West and South sides. That’s compared to a little over 300 arrests Saturday, mainly for disorderly conduct in the downtown area. Brown said cops also seized 64 guns, and citywide there were 48 shootings and 17 murders.
Brown said "to the untrained eye," it may have looked like officers were "just standing by watching as people looted" neighborhood businesses. But Brown said that was far from the truth, adding that at least 130 police officers were injured on Sunday alone trying to arrest looters.
The city’s Building Department is assessing damage through "inspection assessments," Commissioner Judy Frydland said. The city has already identified at least 180 buildings in need of being boarded up, she added. The department is providing a list of contractors businesses can call to help board up broken store windows.
But even as weary city officials set about cleaning up after the weekend’s violence — while trying to prevent more Monday night — they also cautioned Chicagoans about the ongoing threat of COVID-19.
Both the mayor and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady urged anyone who was out in large crowds or without proper face coverings should self-isolate for 14 days and be aware of known symptoms.
“I’ve said this before, and I will say it again,” Lighftoot said, “COVID-19 has not disappeared in Chicago.”