Mayor Lori Lightfoot and city officials left businesses in Black neighborhoods to looters while protecting downtown with beefed up security that included hundreds of members from the National Guard. Blacks are angry and Lightfoot is in trouble.
By Erick Johnson
The fires have been extinguished and the businesses have been boarded up. The streets are once again quieter and CTA service in Chicago has almost totally resumed.
Like many major cities across the country, Chicago is recovering from a violent weekend of rioting, protests and hundreds of arrests in response to the death of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis. The unrest in Chicago was more intense than protests in 2015, when thousands of residents took to the streets after a video was released, showing Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times.
Emotions are still running high after Floyd’s death. Derek Chauvin had initially been charged with third-degree murder after pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as he struggled to breathe.
Former Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has been appointed as the special prosecutor in the case, which sparked protests and rioting and unrest in as many as 130 American cities and countries around the world.
While Chicago begins to return to normal, the city’s Black neighborhood has not. Many businesses remain closed after they were damaged during three days of looting while Chicago police did nothing but watch Black businesses fall to predators.
Out of 375 members of the National Guard, not one was deployed to patrol Black neighborhoods. Much attention was given to de-escalating rising racial tensions, but in the end, business in the Black neighborhoods suffered some of the worst losses in the city and many may not ever recover after Chicago experienced two, back-to-back crises.
The economic losses and disparity in police protection have cut new scars in the Black community, where Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Superintendent David Brown are in damage control mode. Both deny accusations of protecting the Loop and the Mag Mile while doing nothing to save businesses in the city’s Black community. Videos on evening newscasts tell a different story.
Brown on Monday said 699 people were arrested for looting on Sunday, including 461 on the South and West Sides. To residents in those regions in the city, those numbers are hard to believe.
For two days, the Crusader spent hours surveying the damage on the South Side and captured photos of locations where looters were raiding businesses, with and without police officers present.
While covering a protest at 47th and Calumet on Sunday, a Crusader reporter saw about 25 police officers in riot gear. For 20 minutes one stood in front of City Sports, a store that sells athletic shoes and clothing. The store’s security shutters had been torn halfway off, while its glass windows and doors had been smashed.
When the officer left to join the two dozen officers in the middle of the intersection yards away, many people rushed inside the store. One woman emerged from the store with a large plastic bag. One man came out with a handful of sports jerseys. Another man walked past police officers flashing a package. After several minutes of looting, about three officers walked to the store and stood at the front entrance. Looters inside squeezed between them to exit the store with merchandise while the officers did nothing.
One looter was a young woman, who had a box with Nike shoes. As she moved past the officers, she was stopped by Ghian Foreman, the president of the Chicago Police Board, who happened to be on the scene. He took the box of shoes from the woman’s hand and threw it over the head of the police officers and back into the store. He then scolded the police officers for allowing people to steal from the store.
“If they’re allowing someone to walk in and steal, that’s just as wrong,” Foreman told the Crusader at the scene. “It’s no different from an officer watching another officer do something. It’s unacceptable.”
When asked what he will do next, Foreman said. “I want you to help me. I want you to write some stories about what we’re going to do to improve our community.”
By Monday, the Crusader found that eight supermarkets were closed after being damaged. Five were Jewel Osco supermarkets. That day, only one supermarket, Save A Lot at 72nd and Stony Island, was operating within a 13-mile radius.
There is now concern that some of those supermarkets will not reopen anytime soon and that food deserts will grow worse in many Black neighborhoods. Together, hundreds of jobs from these supermarkets are at stake, along with the shopping needs of struggling Black neighborhoods.
One business owner on the South Side told the Crusader that most employees were too afraid to come to work.
In addition to looters, the Crusader saw many volunteers cleaning a Jewel Store in Bronzeville and one on 95th street.
But many other businesses that were looted didn’t get as much help. The windows were smashed and the interior was fully exposed at a Citibank branch at the 47th Street shopping plaza in Hyde Park. Here, a Ross store and Binny’s Beverage Depot were hard hit as some products and numerous shopping carts littered the plaza’s parking lot.
A few blocks west of King Drive, Luv Handles, a custom party event store, was burglarized Monday after a fire ripped through a neighboring store the night before.
Some prominent businesses were spared during the weekend, including the popular Ain’t She Sweet Café on 43rd Street in Bronzeville. A sign that reads “Black Owned” was posted on the cafés front door. Daley’s, Chicago’s oldest restaurant at 63rd and Cottage Grove, was also spared.
In Chatham, a Nike store on 87th Street and Cottage Grove on Monday was nearly empty and flooded with water after it was raided during the weekend. No police officers were present as a stream of people entered the store searching for merchandise.
At a shopping plaza at 95th and Stony Island, the ATM machines were ripped out in the drive thru lanes at a Bank of America.
The Crusader found one shopping center that was heavily guarded by police officers. That one was located on 63rd Street in Englewood and included a Whole Foods Store, Starbucks and a Chipotle restaurant. Police cruisers blocked every entrance of the shopping center and every business seemed intact with little to no damage.
However, there were many businesses on the South Side that were not as fortunate.
In South Shore, the Crusader photographed a man leaving a looted Dollar Tree store at 72nd and Stony Island with a large garbage bag. He gave it to a woman who was waiting in a car in the parking lot. There were no police officers around as the business remained heavily damaged and its merchandise unprotected.
At the Local Market in South Shore, looters broke in the five-month old store before the parking lot entrance was blocked and police were called. Looters ransacked the store as some police officers watched from across the street.
Perhaps the hardest hit chain business was the Jewel Osco Supermarket at 75th and Stony Island in South Shore. With no police officers in sight, dozens and dozens of looters ransacked the store for hours, stacking mountains of groceries in shopping carts and wagons. One man shopped with a 7-foot baker’s cart that’s used to carry baked deserts. Inside, looters were climbing on top of check out registers looking for cash.
It was a much different and quieter scene in the Loop and on the Mag Mile, which were closed off to the public as part of the city’s effort to protect the businesses and high-profile tourist areas.
Residents and employees were forced to present proof of residency and employment to enter the downtown area. Bridges over the Chicago River remained raised throughout the weekend to keep protestors from entering high-profile areas.
Sanitation and city trucks blocked off some streets and members of the National Guard used their Humvees to close parts of the Dan Ryan and several exits leading into downtown. Governor Pritzker deployed 375 National Guard members for this purpose and avoided having them patrol protestors, perhaps to prevent a possible confrontation that might turn violent.
On the North Side, a swarm of police officers in riot gear on Sunday, May 31, protected Old Town, a historic neighborhood with established businesses.
Meanwhile, hardly anything was done to protect the businesses in the Black community.
Many mom and pop retail businesses and their employees in Black neighborhoods were already hurting after being shuttered for nearly three months under Illinois’ stay at home order. Data show none received a piece of the $349 billion in loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program to make up for lost revenue during the pandemic. And there is concern that many mom and pop businesses allowed their insurance to lapse while they were shuttered during the pandemic.
On WVON Monday, June 1, Melody Spann Cooper, chairman of parent company Midway Broadcasting, said on Perri Small’s show, that Lightfoot needs to explain her strategy for securing the Black community. She wasn’t the only Black leader to voice her concern about last weekend’s mayhem.
The next day after Cooper’s appearance on WVON, Lightfoot went on the air with Small and said she understood the frustration and anger from residents whose neighborhoods were looted as police watched. She also said “Part of the challenge is that we did not want to lose lives like other cities. We wanted our officers to show restraint.”
Later Tuesday, Lightfoot emailed the Crusader, this statement.
“Contrary to rumors, the City has spent unprecedented public safety resources on the neighborhoods—particularly on the South and West Sides — to protect residents and ensure the fastest possible emergency response. This includes police deployments, fire and paramedic services. To achieve this, we deployed the Illinois National Guard along the Loop area perimeter to allow Chicago Police Department personnel, who were originally manning the checkpoints, to instead focus on Chicago’s communities, supporting planned peaceful protests and responding to emergencies.”
Alderman Anthony Beale (9th Ward), along with Aldermen Brian Hopkins and Raymond Lopez, sent Lightfoot a letter, saying “there were too few police and no National Guardsmen in the neighborhoods where overnight and throughout Sunday armed vandals looted.
“The people of the west and south sides have already been severely impacted by COVID-19, by disinvestment and by the kind of police brutality that killed George Floyd. The stores that provide the food and medicine that we rely on, are now being attacked by marauders who wish to take advantage of the real and righteous grievances expressed by the peaceful protests–is totally unacceptable and must be stopped.”
Lightfoot, Brown and other city leaders throughout the weekend spent much time blasting looters, calling them “criminals” but taking little to no steps to stop them for taking advantage of a national crisis.
Although on June 3 the Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced arrests and charges against the other three police officers involved in George Floyd’s murder, few city leaders had expressed much outrage over them remaining free after they were fired from the Minneapolis police force. And critics say lost lives from decades of injustice cannot be replaced like damaged businesses or smashed windows.
“The time for business as usual is over and disruption must be the rule of the day,” said Karen Freeman Wilson, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. “With this collective sentiment comes an opportunity for bold action to combat the racism and injustice that have plagued our community for far too long.”
Cook County Commissioner Stanley Moore (4th District) said, “No person deserves to die the way George Floyd did. The pain that residents in Cook County and across the nation are feeling is the byproduct of how a life can be measured and devalued by the color of one’s skin. We cannot as a nation, continue the path of the marginalization of African-American men and their lives, with no recourse of justice for those who exert to violence as a means to resolve supposed local disputes or conflicts.”
Kamala Harris, U.S. Senator from California said, “In recent days, we’ve been forced to confront the tragic and horrific killings of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and now, George Floyd in Minnesota. These are not isolated incidents, but the result of broader systematic racism that exists in our country.”