Mayor Lightfoot Moves Toward Reopening Chicago On Wednesday Despite Civil Unrest

photo of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a news conference
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks at a news conference Friday, March 20, 2020 Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press
photo of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a news conference
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks at a news conference Friday, March 20, 2020 Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press

Mayor Lightfoot Moves Toward Reopening Chicago On Wednesday Despite Civil Unrest

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is forging ahead with her plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions on businesses starting Wednesday, even as the city cleans up from weekend violence and looting that prompted a White House threat to deploy federal troops to major U.S. cities.

Before the weekend violence, the city had outlined a plan to “cautiously reopen” nonessential businesses that had been closed since March as part of Illinois’ plans to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Lighftoot said the city still plans to hit that milestone Wednesday, even as commercial corridors across Chicago are recovering from having their windows smashed and inventory stolen.

Despite calls from Republican President Donald Trump — and even some liberal Chicago aldermen — Lightfoot repeatedly smacked down suggestions Tuesday morning that the city needs to further militarize its response to the protests. She dismissed Trump’s threat to send in federal troops to American cities that have experienced looting and violence following Floyd’s death in police custody.

“It’s not gonna happen. I will see him in court,” said Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor. “It’s not gonna happen. Not in my city.”

Lightfoot suggested Trump lacks the legal authority to send federal soldiers into an American city against local officials’ wishes. She called the suggestion “ridiculous.”

“We’re not having the military patrol our streets,” Lightfoot said, explaining that troops don’t have the training in use-of-force protocols or deescalation techniques that they’d need to handle the city’s unrest peacefully. “And we are not gonna give over our city to the military so that the president can play to his reelection. That’s not gonna happen. Period.”

Lightfoot and Police Supt. David Brown have remained vocal in their objection to having the Illinois National Guard increase its Chicago presence, particularly in the neighborhoods. Currently, there are fewer than 400 Guard members in the city to bolster local police.

“Really? … So let’s revisit how we got here,” Brown said, referring to the previous days’ upheaval. “We got here for an inappropriate use of force in Minneapolis. … And now you wanna call in the National Guard, who are not suited to use force in the ways all of our residents expect.”

Despite the uncertain atmosphere, Lightfoot said Wednesday’s easing of COVID-19 restrictions is a day neighborhood businesses have been preparing for. The mayor said that as she’s talked with businesses across the city — even some that had been looted — they encouraged her to go ahead with her reopening plan.

“You see all this loss around you,” the mayor said. “These are businesses that had been gearing up to open tomorrow, but were instead cleaning up debris, sweeping broken glass, and trying to tally the inventory that had been stolen from them.

“It was hard to see, it was hard to take in,” Lightfoot said.

She called on insurance companies to process claims quickly. The department that handles business licensing is creating a master database to keep an open line of communication with neighborhood chambers of commerce. And her administration urged local businesses in need of resources to reach out to their local chambers first.

Lightfoot’s call to move ahead on Wednesday means nonessential retailers will be allowed to reopen to customers, albeit with social distancing guidelines and capacity limits in place. Chicagoans also will be able to eat outdoors at restaurants, and the city has closed some streets to make more room for al fresco dining.

But businesses that choose to reopen will have to operate under a heavily restricted environment due to the George Floyd protests. Lightfoot has imposed a nightly curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. “until further notice” in an attempt to stop the street violence. And the CTA service has been unreliable during the civil unrest.

Ligthfoot said her office will be making a determination about those restrictions on a day-by-day basis.

“I spent a lot of time thinking about whether this is a necessary thing,” the mayor said of the curfew. “And we just believe that, giving the police department that additional tool was helpful.”

The same consideration will be given to the CTA which has been cutting nighttime service. Lightfoot said she understands the inconvenience but needs to balance that with the fear transit employees are expressing to their union leaders.

Claudia Morell and Becky Vevea cover city politics for WBEZ. Follow them @claudiamorell and @beckyvevea.