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Crisis-weary mayor condemns violence as Chicagoans pick up the pieces

The Illinois National Guard has been activated, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot has called for a moment of silence at 5 p.m.

A volunteer helps clean up Monadnock Tobacco Shop in the loop on May 31, 2020, the morning after it was looted during the Geroge Floyd protest.
Pat Nabong/For The Sun-Times

Shaken but defiant, Chicago’s mayor fought back tears as she condemned Sunday the violence and looting that followed protests Saturday in the Loop, yet another crisis to fall into the lap of the first-term mayor who has already spent months steering the city through a pandemic.

Nearly 400 Illinois National Guard soldiers have been activated by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in what his office is calling a “limited mission” to help the Chicago Police Department. The move followed what Mayor Lori Lightfoot characterized as early morning conversations between her, Pritzker and new police Supt. David Brown, after a night that ended with about 240 people arrested and 20 police officers injured.

The destruction played out amid another national convulsion over race, this time in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. And it left dozens of business owners trying to pick up the pieces Sunday morning.

At a press conference, Lightfoot referred to the nation’s “original sin” of racism, and she said, “I stand shoulder-to-shoulder” with peaceful protestors. But she added, “I’m also hurt and angry at those who decided to hijack this moment and use it as an opportunity to wreak havoc, to loot and to destroy.

“I know you can do better than what I saw last night, and I pray to God that you will find it in your heart to embrace something better for yourself and your lives,” Lightfoot said.

The mayor called for a moment of silence at 5 p.m. Sunday.

A pedestrian passes a boarded-up Macy’s in the loop on May 31, 2020, after thousands protested the killing of George Floyd.
Pat Nabong/For the Sun-Times

Only one year into her first term, Lightfoot has already guided the city through one the country’s worst health crises in a century. Now, on the cusp of re-opening the city following the COVID-19 shut-down, violence erupted Saturday at a level that has been called the worst since the riots of the 1960s. It may rank among the more devastating events dating back to the city’s earliest days.

“In this city, we care for each other,” Lightfoot said, fighting back tears Sunday. “We’ve seen that, over and over again. This is a time for us to unite. We have to turn our pain into purpose.”

The mayor’s office first announced new “precautionary measures” Sunday to limit access to the Loop. It also affirmed the city’s daily curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. is in effect “until further notice.”

Pritzker’s office later announced 375 Illinois National Guard soldiers had been ordered into state active duty to assist CPD.

“This is an immensely challenging moment for our city, our state, and our country, one born from decades and centuries of systemic racism,” Pritzker said in a statement. “To those peacefully expressing the pain, fear, and rage of this moment, I hear you. Your voices matter. We must address the profound injustices in our society and bring about real and meaningful change.”

Ghian Foreman, the president of the Chicago Police Board, channeled the frustration of the city in remarks he said were unprepared during Lightfoot’s press conference. He said, “this is especially tough for me because, as a young black man, being the president of the police board, the buck stops with me when it comes to accountability for police.”

Foreman commended the professionalism of Chicago’s police officers, telling Supt. Brown, “I would not have had the same restraint that many of your officers showed last night.”

“And at the same time, I understand the frustration of the community,” Foreman said. “People are tired. People are tired of this. And mayor, yeah, our kids are watching. But so are our ancestors. I can’t help but think about my grandmother telling me stories of her house being bombed and what they fought for to get me in a position to stand up here today. I’m not here because I’m the police board president. I’m here because I love you. That’s why I’m here. One day I won’t be a police board president, but I’ll be a dad. I’ll be a son.”

Elsewhere, business owners and members of the community assessed the damage.

At Hero Coffee, 439 S. Wabash Dearborn, looters busted through the glass of the front door and tried to break the store’s safe, damaging the floor in the process. Michelle Martinez, the owner of four Hero Coffee locations, considered the wreckage Sunday morning as her store was being boarded up.

Martinez, a Pilsen native, said she empathizes with demonstrators standing against police violence, though she fears some bad actors were “taking advantage of the situation” and “almost tainting the positive aspects of what the movement is trying to cause.”

Like other small business owners hit hard by the COVID-19 shutdown, Martinez was excited to get all of her shops up and running again this week. Now, there’s a new source of uncertainty.

“This has been my American dream to own my own coffee shop,” said Martinez, whose family emigrated from Mexico. “It’s disheartening and it’s upsetting when you see your city just looted.”

A couple blocks away, a similar scene played out at the Monadnock Tobacco Shop at 332 S. Dearborn.

Sana Awaan, the store’s owner, said she saw looters break into her store by watching a live feed of the store’s surveillance cameras from her home in Plainfield. After the store’s windows were broken, Awaan saw the thieves break into her cash register and make off with a lottery machine.

Awaan noted her shop had been closed since mid-March, and she was excited to get back to work. Her outlook has changed completely after Saturday night’s spell of downtown destruction.

“I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to recover,” Awaan said. “I’ve never been so helpless in my life.”

Across the street, volunteers from the area helped clean up a 7-11 store at the corner of Dearborn and Van Buren. Abby Dryer, of the South Loop, woke up Sunday morning, grabbed a broom and started walking from business to business.

“I support the cause, and the only way that this works is if the community stands together and supports everyone,” Dryer said. “I will keep sweeping up glass until the color of your skin doesn’t dictate the way you’re treated by the police.”

Government officials have begun to single out groups of organized rioters they say are flooding into major cities not to call for justice but to cause destruction. Democrats and Republicans singled out groups, including “Antifa” and “Boogaloo,” as playing a role in the violence, NBC News was reporting.

On Twitter, President Donald Trump said he is “designating” Antifa a terrorist organization.

Of the Saturday night violence, Lightfoot told reporters, “absolutely, it was organized. There’s no question whatsoever about that.” She pointed to “the number of U-Haul trucks that magically showed up in front of stores” and caravans of cars helping to whisk looted merchandise away.

A spokesperson for Chicago Anti-fascist Action told the Chicago Sun-Times, “For real though, Antifa isn’t an organization. Anti-fascism is an ideology designed to fight the very things that Trump stands for: mass detentions of refugees, white nationalist groups, the Bugaloo boys, and terrorizing communities of color.”

Bridges in the loop remain lifted the day after thousands protested the killing of George Floyd. May 31, 2020.
Pat Nabong/For The Sun-Times