The Sunday afternoon shooting by police of Latrell Allen, 20, in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood led to a standoff in that community between residents and officers. By evening the tension had eased, but overnight and into the early morning hours Monday, looters hit Chicago’s wealthiest shopping district on North Michigan Avenue.
Looting earlier this summer grew out of large protest marches downtown. This most recent looting was different, and it’s exact genesis remains unclear. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said,“This is not legitimate First Amendment-protected speech. … This was straight-up felony, criminal conduct,” but some activists disagree. WBEZ talked with Black Lives Matter organizer Ariel Atkins on why she supports people looting and looting as protest.
What’s your take on the police shooting in Englewood and the subsequent looting downtown?
Ariel Atkins: A lot of people are really attacking our pages. They’re like, ‘Oh, you support the looters.’ And yeah, we do, 100%. That’s reparations. And like however people choose to protest, especially if it was definitely in line with what happened with the shooting, which would be powerful to see people reacting … without organizers just being like, ‘We’re angry and this is what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna take the power back.’
I feel like these stores, these Macy’s, these Guccis, the PNC Banks, they’re not here for us. The city puts way more money and investment into spending time and protecting their spaces and making sure that they exist. And yet our people are constantly being pushed out of the city. … Unemployment is incredibly high, like we are in an incredible situation, and the fact that anybody gives a s*** about these businesses over what is happening in this city right now and the pain that people are in and the suffering that is taking place, I don’t care. I will support the looters ‘till the end of the day. If that’s what they need to do in order to eat, then that’s what you’ve got to do to eat.
What do you say to people who argue looting undermines Black Lives Matter’s message?
Atkins: I think that those people are forgetting the way that history has ever worked. The way that history has worked, the way that we’ve ever gotten wins, has never been through peaceful protests alone, and I will say with quotes, “peaceful protests.” Winning has come through revolts. Winning has come through riots. Winning has come through constant, constant work. … The only people that can undermine our movement are the police, our oppressors, and then us when we don’t believe in the people that we’re fighting with. If we are constantly trying to tell each other exactly the right way to do it, as opposed to finding ways to support each other and get that collective win, that is undermining. I don’t undermine my movement.
What do you think of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s comments about the looting?
Atkins: This is the same woman who literally said, ‘Well, I haven’t heard anybody in real life say defund the police’ when you go to her block and there are people that literally have signs in their window that say defund the police, when people are literally protesting outside of her house every day screaming defund the police, and then when they’re protesting outside of her office. So, you know, she can just say anything she wants. … The whole idea of criminality is based on racism anyway, because criminality is punishing people for things that they have needed to do to survive or just the way that society has affected them with white supremacist B.S. So it’s like her deciding what is criminal and what isn’t.
What else do you think people need to know?
Atkins: Lori Lightfoot actually got herself on TV … and said to the city that people are attacking the city and that cops don’t deserve to be gassed and beaten and attacked. And I can say that protesters do not deserve to be gassed and beaten and attacked. We experienced it on the 30th of May, the 31st, the 1st, people being beaten bloody. We experienced it on the 17th. We’ve experienced it consistently and even before these protests, just people being Black, being brown in the streets, being attacked and beaten and tased and killed by police officers. If anyone is attacking this city, it’s them. And anybody who is rising up and saying, ‘We won’t take this anymore, we’re going to do what we want’ — those are the people that she should be trying to protect, and those are the people that she should be getting outraged for.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Robert Wildeboer is the senior editor of WBEZ’s criminal justice desk. Follow him @robertwildeboer. Chip Mitchell reports on criminal justice out of WBEZ’s West Side studio. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1.