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City Says It’s Going All-Out To Stop Looting: Social Media Surveillance, Raised Bridges, CTA Shutdowns

The city's efforts are aimed at making residents and business owners feel safe throughout Chicago, not just Downtown, Lightfoot said — but critics disagree.

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DOWNTOWN — Chicago Police will use “every legal tactic necessary to protect retail throughout the city” this weekend, Supt. David Brown announced Friday.

That will include creating a dedicated, 20-person police team to monitor social media around the clock; using “enhanced tactics” to shut down areas targeted by looting, like putting up bollards and blocking and disabling cars; and getting 500 more police body cameras, among other things, Brown and Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a press conference.

The news comes as the city gears up to protect the Downtown area and commercial corridors in more residential neighborhoods this weekend after there was looting, gunfire and vandalism Downtown and in pockets of the neighborhoods Sunday night into Monday morning.

That unrest happened after police shot a 20-year-old man in Englewood. Police said the man had fired shots at officers, but his family has disputed that account.

Some activists have said looting is a way of collecting reparations for Black Chicagoans who have been starved of resources in their neighborhoods and brutalized by police, but Lightfoot rejected that and said anyone who condones such behavior is spreading the wrong message.

“It should be obvious, but let me say this loud and clear: No matter what an individual’s life circumstances may be, it is never justifiable to take that which is not yours,” Lightfoot said during the press conference. “We teach that basic, basic tenant of our democracy to our children, and any thinking, any speech, any action that suggests that somehow taking and looting is justifiable is simply wrong and I reject it in the strongest words possible.”

The looting has impacted “more than just a collection of office buildings or retail stores,” Lightfoot said, as the Downtown area — where the looting was most widespread this weekend — includes residential communities where people live, and those people need safety and security.

And small, locally-owned businesses throughout Chicago’s neighborhoods were already struggling due to the pandemic before being hit hard by looting this weekend and widespread looting in early June, Lightfoot said.

The looting damaged the “faith and confidence” of residents and business owners in the city’s “ability to ensure basic protection,” Lightfoot said.

“… There can never be any place in Chicago where businesses are afraid to open, where residents and visitors are afraid to travel and shop or where employees are afraid to go to work,” Lightfoot said. “It eats me up when I hear from residents anywhere that they are afraid: afraid to leave their homes, afraid in their homes, afraid to go to to work, to go out for necessities or just to enjoy the beauty of this city.”

The city’s efforts are aimed at making residents and business owners feel safe throughout Chicago, not just Downtown, Lightfoot said.

But Lightfoot has been criticized for steps the city has taken to protect the Loop and nearby areas, like cutting off CTA trains there, blocking streets and raising the bridges.

The city said the measures were needed to protect businesses and residents from looting and vandalism, but critics said it showed Lightfoot’s administration is prioritizing protecting wealthy businesses and people Downtown over other neighborhoods and residents.

Friday’s announcement “makes it tragically clear that Mayor Lightfoot is making a decision to put property and profits before people,” United Working Families said in a press release immediately after the city’s announcement. “What we need is to overhaul an institution that has profoundly failed Black and brown people.

“But what we got today was a doubling down on police crackdown and surveillance, including increased cooperation with federal agencies overseen by Donald Trump’s racist and repressive administration, increased surveillance of civilians and regular intelligence briefings to corporate CEOs.”

The Police Department’s new task force will monitor posts on social media, looking for posts about looting, violence and other crimes this weekend, officials said.

If they learn of anything being planned, officers will be “deployed immediately,” Lightfoot said. They’ll use strategies, like blocking cars and putting up bollards, to limit movement in targeted areas, she said.

State police will also be sent to “shut down” parts of Chicago that are being targeted, Lightfoot said. Officers from the county Sheriff’s Office will go to neighborhoods to help police with reducing violence.

And people who participate in crimes like looting will be prosecuted, Brown said.

“We will do everything we can to stop you, and we will arrest you. If you get away from us, we will work with our state and federal partners to find you, and we will arrest you,” Brown said.

The Police Department has set up the Detective Task Force on Looting with the FBI, and investigators have already begun reviewing footage from the weekend’s looting so they can find and prosecute people.

Brown said Kim Foxx, Cook County state’s attorney, has committed to working with police to prosecute those people “to the fullest extent of the law.”

Foxx said the Police Department gave her office 44 cases, requesting permission for felony charges, after this weekend. Her office approved 43 of them, 28 for what they’d consider burglary and looting, she said.

“These are extraordinary times,” Foxx said. “… The way out of this is what we’ve done in the past and will continue to do, which is work collaboratively with all of our partners to bring those who commit these acts to justice, and to work with our communities to make sure our system is fair and just and equitable for everyone.”

For the future, the city and the Police Department will work to create stronger partnerships with community leaders, groups and violence intervention workers, Lightfoot said. Those people can “use their voice to speak out against looting” to prevent it, she said.

The mayor said the city will also do more to connect with businesses, like hosting weekly “intelligence sharing meetings” with owners. She also urged business owners to sign up for online alerts from the city that will warn them when there are potential issues near their businesses. Owners can sign up online.

“What we experienced this week is simply not who we are as a city, and we will never allow anyone to destroy the fabric of our city and our pride that we rightfully have as Chicagoans,” Lightfoot said. People “deserve to feel safe. And I am working night and day to make that a reality for your and residents all across our city.”

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