By Erick Johnson
For the second time in two months, widespread lootings have struck Chicago.
The first wave of theft and destruction occurred in late May, when looters ransacked struggling businesses and stores on Chicago’s South and West sides. Many businesses were left unprotected. When police were around some businesses, they did nothing as looters ran off with groceries, clothes, television sets and just about anything they could carry or fit in their cars.
Fast forward to last weekend. Dozens of looters were arrested after they raided high-end stores on Chicago’s ritzy Mag Mile in the Gold Coast. Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Burberry. Managers of these high-end stores complained and got a different reaction from Chicago police. Not only were thieves arrested and draw bridges were raised to stop looters, a Looting Task Force was created by the police department’s Detective Division.
The contrast in responses comes as Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx are under pressure to satisfy business owners and residents who operate and live in Chicago’s affluent downtown and North Side.
On evening newscasts and front-page newspapers in Chicago and across the country, the looting of the Mag Mile is still the talk of the town, as managers of high-end businesses clean and board up their windows out of concern of being hit again.
Their complaints about the looting and threats to their safety have fueled concerns that the city’s most high-profile, tourist area is at risk of losing its businesses and, more importantly, its appeal.
The reality is that looting in Chicago was never viewed as a serious problem until it affected downtown and the North Side, which contributes to the city’s tax rolls more than neighborhoods on the South and West sides.
Lightfoot has rightfully received praise for her tough leadership during the pandemic and for her outspokenness on the city’s crime and gun violence. At a press conference on Monday (August 10), Lightfoot described last weekend’s looting in the Mag Mile as “straight-up felony criminal conduct” and told looters “We are coming for you.”
Why wasn’t this outrage and determination to bring justice to looters equally expressed when businesses on the South and West sides were looted last May? There were no promises to apprehend looters who committed many acts of vandalism and theft from struggling businesses in those underserved neighborhoods.
An article in the Chicago Sun-Times said that since the looting downtown, Lightfoot had “been burning the phone and Zoom lines reassuring them [business owners] that, as she put it, ‘We are going to see our way through this challenging confluence of events.’”
The mayor’s empathy is clearly there, but there are still questions whether city officials protected downtown last May while leaving Black and brown neighborhoods open to looters. Some businesses never reopened after being hit once. Some businesses that were hit a second time this weekend had the means and capital to reopen again.
Last May, Alderman Anthony Beale (9th) was among several Black aldermen who complained that their wards received little to no police protection during two days of looting. There were many reports of police allowing looters to raid businesses.
This reporter observed Chicago Police Board President Ghian Foreman scolding three police officers after they allowed one looter after another to leave a clothing store in Bronzeville with boxes of shoes and bags of clothing. The scene was much different this weekend where 100 people were arrested after looting stores in River North, the Mag Mile or the Gold Coast Sunday night and the early morning hours on Monday.
Is it okay to allow looters to ransack struggling businesses while arresting others who raid businesses in Chicago’s affluent neighborhoods?
Legal analysts say many first-time offenders will likely be allowed to bond out of jail, while looters who have committed repeated offenses will have greater challenges.
The biggest question came on Tuesday, August 11, when CPD Detective Division announced the creation of the Looting Task Force. The new group asks residents who have photos or videos of looters to email firstname.lastname@example.org or submit an anonymous tip at CPDtip.com.
The task force was created in response to looting on the Mag Mile. As far as the South and West sides, those neighborhoods are on their own.