WASHINGTON PARK — For weeks, business owners, residents and legislators have blasted city leaders for not doing enough to protect the South and West sides when looting and vandalism spilled out of Downtown and into their neighborhoods.
On Thursday, many of them feel they received evidence they were right.
A group of Chicago Police officers were caught on video entering the burglarized Englewood office of Rep. Bobby Rush early June 1. Once inside, security footage shows the officers spent nearly five hours relaxing on the furniture, napping, making popcorn and coffee, and playing on their phones — while people vandalized and stole from neighboring businesses.
Several businesses at the Grand Boulevard Plaza mall, 5401 S. Wentworth Ave. — where Rush’s office is — were looted. It is unclear when, or if, many will reopen.
With the 2nd District police station just four blocks away and a gaggle of officers on the scene, some who witnessed their stores being looted questioned why the police response seemed so underwhelming.
“We’re less than two minutes away from the police station. Why were there only 13 officers?” said Donna Hampton-Smith, a board member of Washington Park’s Chamber of Commerce. “Why wasn’t the mall protected? I want to get to the bottom of what happened.
Boost Mobile employees Quella Whitehead and Shawn Council arrived at the store that day only to be sent home early by the owner, who received a 7 a.m alarm call for a broken window.
“We saw two cop cars and mall security telling people to leave, but no entrances were blocked off,” Whitehead said Thursday. “Looters came back later that day and cleaned everything out. Being in it, it was like something out of a movie.”
All four of Whitehead’s stores were hit, with the Washington Park location incurring $30,000 worth of damage and staff losing a week’s pay.
Several doors down, Thien Le, owner of City Nails at 5401 S. Wentworth Ave., went to his shop with his family Sunday after watching news reports of looting in the area.
“We couldn’t get in. Police blocked both entrances, so we could only see swarms of people running with handfuls of stuff from the plaza towards the train station,” Le said.
Le and his son said Thursday they lost more than $60,000 in equipment and inventory that day. The family had purchased new chairs two weeks before the riots in adherence to coronavirus social distancing guidelines.
Still, they plan to reopen in two weeks.
“We reached out to the Police Department for help, but we were told they were too busy to help us,” Le’s son said. “The day after, it took police hours to come. We talked with detectives and filed a report. Now we’re trying to get our insurance stuff straightened out.”
On the other side of the mall, across the parking lot, Plano Vision Center owner Stephanie Johnson said she thinks police were outnumbered.
“I was there that night and there were so many people running in and out of stores. Unless you have a lot of police, it was too much,” Johnson said. “When I came in the evening, I didn’t witness any police sleeping. The police were here protecting the firefighters.”
Johnson credits a police officer with keeping her out of harm’s way as she attempted to go to her store to turn off the alarm. That officer, she said, ushered her to a nearby office park left untouched by looters.
“The security guards were told by the police officers that it was too dangerous for them to be out there. There were only three of them,” Johnson said.
“I should be angry because of all the aggravation I’m going through with trying to get this business back up, but I was more hurt than anything. Those people that were looting look like the patients I serve, and that’s what hurt me, seeing that.”
DeAndre Sanders is a barber at Hair Experts, in the same mall as Rush’s office. He said police told his staff to leave that day — and when they came back the next day, their shop was destroyed.
“How much were they really trying to save 55th Street?” asked Sanders, who noted his barbershop lost $50,000 worth of equipment to vandals. “How did this happen with a police station that close?”
Hampton-Smith from the commerce chamber said the story of the sleeping officers in Rush’s office should be a wakeup call for Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Prior to the pandemic, the chamber and the Police Department enjoyed a great working relationship, often working together on initiatives like Neighborhood Watch, Hampton-Smith said.
“We have leaders turning a blind eye to the systemic racism in our communities, metaphorically sleeping on their jobs,” Hampton-Smith said. “I need the mayor to take a good look into her department and find out who else is sleeping and just hasn’t been captured on video.”
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