Every Chicago neighborhood must feel sure it’s getting a full and fair police response

City Hall must take seriously the complaints of South Side and West Side aldermen that the police were too often missing in action during the weekend’s unrest.

The Cosmo Beauty store at 4109 W Madison St. was among the West Side businesses looted on Sunday, May 31, 2020.

The Cosmo Beauty store at 4109 W Madison St. was among the West Side businesses looted on Sunday.

Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

It’s a very big deal when looters run rampant through neighborhoods on the South and West sides, ransacking strip malls and busting out storefronts.

So we take seriously the complaints of aldermen that the police were missing in action in their communities during the weekend’s unrest over the death of George Floyd.

As Ald. Pat Dowell wondered in a weekend post on Facebook, “Why do we need over 100 police to enforce a peaceful protest in Old Town when mayhem and lawlessness runs rampant in Bronzeville and Washington Park?”

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Dowell and other aldermen make a fundamentally important point. Policing must be equitable across the city in times of crisis and always. The police must respond to vandalism and lawbreaking in Garfield Park and Roseland as fully as they do in the Loop and Old Town.

Given the sheer volume of calls the Chicago Police received over the weekend — some 65,000, which is 50,000 more than normal — we have no doubt that some outbreaks of looting went unchecked. We also have no doubt the mountain of work being thrown at the cops contributed to Chicago’s most violent weekend of the year, with 82 people shot, 19 of them fatally.

We personally saw looters making off with merchandise from a drugstore at 67th Street and Stony Island Avenue in Woodlawn. We heard of similar unchecked looting near North and Sheffield in Lincoln Park.

In the end, though, we haven’t seen credible evidence that Mayor Lori Lightfoot or Police Supt. David Brown deliberately ignored the South and West sides when deploying officers.

“We did not stand by and let the South and West Sides burn, as some have propagated,” Lightfoot said bluntly Monday. “There is no way that we would ever let any neighborhood receive more resources and protection than any others. Ever.”

Looting and violence spread like wildfire over the weekend. That’s the unpredictable reality law enforcement had to deal with. And Brown claimed Monday that looters used a bait-and-switch technique, sending folks to one area to draw police attention while secretly targeting another area.

The police at times fielded almost 2,000 calls in a half hour, and ultimately made 699 arrests. Of those arrests, 461 — 66% — were made on the South and West sides.

All the same, perception matters. At minimum, no alderman should be left feeling in the dark about policing strategies, especially at this time. It’s the job of the mayor’s office to communicate clearly the rationale for police deployments.

“This is one city,” West Side Ald. Jason Ervin said. “Everybody deserves the same level of protection as anybody else.”

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