SOUTH SHORE — South Shore residents, knowing full well the possibility of continued destruction, joined part of a widespread effort Monday to clear the neighborhood of debris following a weekend of unrest across the city.
More police car and storefront windows would be shattered blocks from the staging area just hours later, but dozens of volunteers came out to help nonetheless.
Drivers received assignments to some of the South Side’s most damaged areas, loaded up volunteers and quickly went out to clean. Some of the locations the traveling groups focused on included 87th Street and Stony Island Avenue, 94th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue and 71st Street and Jeffery Boulevard.
At 87th and Stony, crews of volunteers and staffers of Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) cleared the sidewalks of glass in front of Don’s Beauty Supply and Maxine’s Boutiques, which had a “black-owned” sign in the window to deter looters.
Reminders of the weekend’s destruction were all around. One volunteer got a flat tire from a metal object as he pulled in to park at a neighboring Walgreens.
The volunteers — including many youth and young adults — came on their own accord, Harris said. Nobody called them, they simply heard of an opportunity to help and did so.
“Today when I woke up and everybody’s out here helping reunite the community … it’s awesome,” Harris said over the crunching sound of glass being swept up. “A few people did something bad, but a lot of good people came out to make it better.”
Asked if city policy had prioritized the safety of Downtown at the expense of neighborhoods like hers, Harris said reflecting on the weekend’s events doesn’t help the community heal. Initiatives like the cleanups are the only way forward.
“I can go back and second-guess every decision [city officials] made; that still doesn’t get me moving forward,” she said.
As the 87th Street cleanup was winding down, bystander Marcus Wilkins picked up an empty trash bucket from outside the nearby Walgreens; he thought it could be used to hold broken glass. He hadn’t heard of the cleanup effort beforehand, but once he saw it, he wanted to help out.
All the glass had been removed from the sidewalk by that point, so Wilkins — a South Sider since 1953 — hopped in an organizer’s car and was taken to the 71st Street staging area.
“Experience has told me that a positive effort is better than a negative one,” Wilkins said. “Do something to fix something.”
The unrest on the South Side in 2020 is different than his experience following Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1968 assassination, he said.
“In Woodlawn, where I grew up at, half the neighborhood had disappeared due to arson for profit,” Wilkins said. “There wasn’t that much left to riot on. The West Side went up in flames.”
If looting and destruction continues on the South Side, Wilkins sees the same fate for his lifelong home as those West Side neighborhoods that never recovered from the 1968 riots.
He understands the anger looters feel; his “rage was a palpable thing” when he experienced the King riots as a younger man, and he has been mad about police brutality “since Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.“
But he encouraged residents to see the longer game before looting — the only ones that benefit from destruction are the “sharp operators” who will swoop in after the fact, taking advantage of decreased property values and a lack of neighborhood unity.
“You get played. It’s a game,” Wilkins said. “You get mad, you tear something up; they sucker you and take it out from under you.”
Down the street from the cleanup staging area, a largely peaceful protest was being led by organizers who echoed Wilkins’ sentiments.
The protests are necessary forms of expression, said one woman in a Neighborhood Network Alliance t-shirt who had come over to the protest after assisting a cleanup at the Local Market, 2101 E. 71st St.
But the looting and destruction are distracting from the cause — the end of violent overpolicing of Black people — and causing more cleanup work for residents, she said.
As she spoke to a Block Club reporter, police and protestors began to scuffle at the destroyed City Sports. In the next half-hour, a few protesters threw rocks at a nearby phone store Lyca Mobile, smashed police car windows and confronted officers. Police arrested three people during the commotion
“We need to organize, we need to strategize,” she said. “We’re losing focus. We want to rebel, we want to fight, but we’re losing focus of why we’re doing this.”
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