WEST GARFIELD PARK — Stores in a West Garfield Park business corridor stayed closed Tuesday, a day after activists helped mediate issues between police and crowds of people amid reports of looting and property damage.
Police officers shut down a stretch of Madison Street in West Garfield Park Monday as they tried to push back people. A large crowd had gathered outside the stores in the main commercial backbone of the neighborhood near the intersection of Madison Street and Karlov Avenue.
The incident came just hours after widespread looting Downtown that started Sunday afternoon when police officers shot and wounded a Black man in Englewood. The civil unrest was exacerbated by false, widespread rumors the victim was a 15-year-old boy whom police shot 15 times, and that he had been killed.
Chicago Police officers, SWAT teams and Cook County Sheriff’s officers confronted the West Garfield Park crowd to stop damage to the businesses in the area, police said.
“They were trying to loot along that corridor. So then we pushed things out to the perimeter,” said Chicago Police spokesman Rocco Alito.
Members of the crowd threw rocks, bottles and bricks and two Chicago Police officers were injured, Alito said. A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office said one officer was hit in the head with a brick and taken to the hospital.
Officers eventually cleared Madison Street and surrounding areas, leaving the commercial corridor empty. Police initially closed the area bordered by Washington and Jackson boulevards, and from Keeler Avenue to Independence Boulevard.
By Tuesday, most roads were reopened, but Madison Street remained blocked off by squad cars and garbage trucks between Independence Boulevard and Karlov Avenue.
Alito said no arrests were made Monday related to the incident.
People in the area said police responded to the incident much more quickly than they did during riots in June. Those riots devastated many of the West Side’s main commercial corridors.
Chris Patterson, of the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, said the heavy police response may have initially escalated tensions among the crowd, but it was effective at ending the looting Monday. Patterson and others at the violence prevention organization attempted to help resolve the situation peacefully, he said.
“We were able to mediate a few of those instances where we got in between community members and law enforcement just to encourage calm on both sides,” Patterson said.
It’s unclear why the Madison corridor was targeted. Patterson said he felt the looting erupted from a place of desperation after struggling for years with unemployment and neglect in the neighborhood.
“When people who often are not heard, people who obviously are lacking resources, they take those opportunities to get it, unfortunately in the wrong way,” Patterson said. “It’s not acceptable, but we understand why it happens.”
Longtime resident Phillip Houston said he’s been in the area for more than seven decades. But in all that time, little has been done to address the poor housing conditions, poverty and addiction issues that plague the area.
Residents who have suffered their entire lives from inequality will seize any chance they can get to take their fair share and level the playing field, Houston said.
The looting may be opportunistic, Houston said, but it is also a response to the structural racism and lack of equity that has crippled the West Side for generations.
“They ain’t got nothing. They got no job, they got no money. … They’re gonna get in trouble because they have nothing else to live for, so what they got to lose?” Houston said. “They need to put more money into helping people get jobs. Then it wouldn’t be like this.”
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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