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Cicero residents accuse police department of letting gangs roam during looting

One African American woman said she was confronted by Latino gang members while driving on Cermak Road.

Protesters gather outside the Cicero Police Department Tuesday afternoon. Looting and violence spread through the town Monday in the wake of weekend protests over the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police.
Protesters gather outside the Cicero Police Department Tuesday afternoon. Looting and violence spread through the town Monday in the wake of weekend protests over the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

During a night of unrest in Cicero that left two people dead, some residents say police officers allowed Latino gangs to patrol the community with bats and crowbars to fend off looters.

Cicero’s police superintendent called those allegations “ludicrous.”

There also were reports on TV and social media of business owners on rooftops with assault rifles and other guns ready to prevent destruction of their businesses.

And some residents accuse Latino gang members of targeting African Americans driving on Cermak Road.

Shapearl Wells, an African American resident of Cicero, said she and her family were targeted Monday afternoon on Cermak.

It happened first to her cousin, who was driving out from Chicago to visit her. She was at a red light on Cermak Road and Central Avenue when a group of men approached the cousin’s car.

“They told her, ‘You not from around here you n - - - - - bitch,’” Wells said.

She told Wells what happened when she arrived. Wells, who’s lived in Cicero since 2003, was stunned. She went out for a drive to see for herself.

At some point, “about 20 to 25 Latin Kings” approached Wells’ car. “I rolled down my window and they told me I would only be OK if I go in the house and stayed inside.”

She said she called the police to tell them what happened, but nothing was done.

Cicero has declared a state of emergency; a curfew will be in effect from 8 p.m. Tuesday to 6 a.m. Wednesday.

Cicero Police Supt. Jerry Chlada Jr. disputed allegations that his police force allowed gangs to patrol the streets and even bought them pizza.

“That’s ludicrous. Cicero Police Department would never team up with gangs or buy them pizza,” Chlada Jr. said at a news conference Tuesday. “We were trying to get all of our citizens inside of the house last night all night long and again this is why we are imposing this curfew.”

Cicero Police Department Supt. Jerry Chlada Jr. speaks Tuesday during a press conference at the department’s headquarters after looting and violence spread through the town in the wake of weekend protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Cicero Police Department Supt. Jerry Chlada Jr. speaks Tuesday during a press conference at the department’s headquarters after looting and violence spread through the town in the wake of weekend protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Chlada Jr. confirmed the two shooting fatalities and said police arrested 60 people. The shooting deaths occurred in an area where looting was taking place, but it is unclear how the victims were involved. The investigation is ongoing, Chlada Jr. said.

“We are asking every Cicero resident to not to be involved with taking law into their own hands,” Chlada Jr. said. “Allow us to handle any criminal activity and to remain in their homes.”

Leaving the press conference, Chlada Jr. was met by Wells and other protesters saying he was lying about police not looking the other way while gang members roamed.

“I called you guys and told you what was going on. You all knew this was happening and you know it,” Wells told Chlada Jr. “You have to stop this now.”

Later Tuesday, organizers marched through Cicero to denounce Monday’s gang activity. About 100 people gathered at Cicero Town Hall, then walked walked about two miles on Cermak, holding signs saying “Justice for George Floyd” and shouting “No Race War.”

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.

Protesters march down West Cermak Road near South 50th Avenue Tuesday afternoon after looting and violence spread through Cicero in the wake of weekend protests over the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
Protesters march down West Cermak Road near South 50th Avenue Tuesday afternoon after looting and violence spread through Cicero in the wake of weekend protests over the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times