DOWNTOWN — Police and city officials are working to identify what they called an “organized assembly line” of violent instigators who caused widespread damage in the Loop and River North on Saturday night —
but community organizers and local aldermen dispute that any such behavior was part of a coordinated strategy.
Downtown businesses were vandalized and stolen from Saturday night. As of Sunday afternoon, looting has been reported in Englewood, Bronzeville, Grand Crossing, Wicker Park and West Garfield Park . Target closed all stores in the city limits as a precautionary measure.
The people behind those acts are not the same people who were peacefully protesting the killing of George Floyd and other Black people by police, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other city leaders said during a Sunday afternoon news conference.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx urged those watching at home to avoid calling protesters “looters” and to recognize they were distinct groups of people.
“We conflate protesters, looters. They’re two different groups,” she said. “We will hold accountable those who are seeking to exploit this moment.”
Lightfoot said there was “no question” the destruction — and, in particular, the arsons — had been part of a unified effort. Lightfoot said the city is working with the FBI, the Attorney General’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to investigate who was behind the “absolutely organized and coordinated” efforts to start fires and steal during and after protests.
“… For many of us, we witnessed a respectful and peaceful and righteous protest run by organizers, and that was appropriate. It’s outrageous what occurred in Minneapolis,” Ald. Brendan Reilly, whose 42nd Ward includes large portions of the Downtown area, said Sunday.
“It’s also important to remember that after the peaceful protesters finished and left the area, what remained was rioters and looters. Their only interest was in creating havoc, criminal property damage and theft. This was not — to what I saw and many of my neighbors witnessed — these were not crimes of passion. In many cases they were very carefully thought-out.”
Kofi Ademola, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Chicago, refuted these claims.
“That’s beyond ridiculous,” Ademola said. “Where’s the evidence of that? Are they saying this same ‘entity’ coordinating all this looting is on the South and West Sides organizing people looting right now? (It’s) folks maybe working within their personal social circles but it’s not any kind of sophisticated organization coordinating anything from what I’ve seen.”
Alds. Andre Vasquez (40th) and Rossana Rodriguez (33rd) also were skeptical of that any looting was organized. Both were community organizers before being elected to City Council.
“We’re in a real national crisis but if someone is making claims about coordinated looters you also need to provide the proof of it,” Vasquez said.
Rodriguez said desperation — rather than an organized attack — is a more likely explanation.
“George Floyd’s murder was a spark that lit a fire in people’s hearts,” Rodriguez said. “There is a lot of rage in Black and Brown communities having their lives threatened by daily racism. People are also desperate because of a lack of a social safety net for people who have lost jobs and can’t pay rent or buy food during a global pandemic.
“When you have that rage and that need, it has the potential to combine into an explosive situation like we are seeing in Chicago.”
People should not focus on those who planned and carried out the destruction, Foxx said Sunday. Instead, the focus should remain on Floyd and other killings of Black Americans, she said.
“This is our home,” Foxx said. “And these people will come in to try to disrupt that — the organized element who care not about systemic issues but shoes … .
“… If we continue to talk about that fringe element who’s tried to hijack this, and not about the men and women who died in the systems that have allowed their deaths to go unpunished, we will have learned nothing from this.”
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