Aldermen and business leaders have accused Mayor Lori Lightfoot of being caught flat-footed this summer when civil unrest triggered by the death of George Floyd devolved into two devastating rounds of looting.
It won’t happen again if there is more trouble triggered by Halloween or the outcome of the election Tuesday.
On Friday, Lightfoot unveiled a 10-day “preparedness and safety plan” focused on Election Day but continuing all of next week.
Once again, it relies on a heavy police presence bolstered by Illinois State Police and Cook County sheriffs officers and the use of as many as 300 heavy trucks to block neighborhood commercial corridors.
Lightfoot acknowledged emotions are running high going into the election Tuesday and the outcome of the presidential election and control of the U.S. Senate may not be known for days.
But she appealed to Chicagoans to “channel your emotions” into peaceful, productive means of expression.
“We need to de-escalate from this long, difficult year,” Lightfoot told a news conference at the city’s 911 emergency center.
“There may be some people — win or lose — who are unhappy with the results. But we have to honor those results. … One of the big lessons from this year, and there are many, is that we don’t have a right to take out our frustration, our anger on someone else.”
Well aware that Chicago businesses have already endured two devastating rounds of looting, Lightfoot said she is prepared to do whatever it takes to avoid strike three. That includes “shutting down parts of the city” or even the CTA, if need be.
“In the heightened days of June, when we were seeing massive protests and many of those protests turning violent … we had people trying to take over buses. … We had people trying to take over trains. … The transit unions were reaching out to me in a panic and asking for us to do things that were necessary to protect the workers, including shutting down transit,” she said.
“I hope that we never see again in this city that kind of violence, but if we do and if there is a reason for us to take those extreme measures. I’m not gonna hesitate to do that.”
Working closely with federal partners, Chicago Police Supt. David Brown there are “no incidents on the horizon based on our latest intelligence.” Police officers will “work to de-escalate, to calm tensions” so everyone is comfortable exercising their right to vote.
But he warned “lawlessness” would not be tolerated.
“Don’t loot in Chicago. If you do loot, you will be held accountable. If you escape, we will find you and bring you to justice,” Brown said.
The security plan is the product of months of preparation and several table-top exercises to plan for all contingencies. Key parts of the plan:
• Canceling days off for all Chicago police officers for Halloween and Election Day. Days off will also be canceled for the next 10 days for “selected citywide teams,” Brown said.
• Using at least 60 and as many as 300 snowplows, salt spreaders and other heavy trucks to protect “neighborhood commercial corridors and critical businesses” in the event civil unrest spreads beyond the downtown area.
• Activating the city’s emergency operations center and opening a first-ever “Business Operations Center” inside the city’s 911 emergency center. The new center will allow businesses and their private security officers onsite to “exchange real-time information,” provide “situational awareness” and enhance the city’s ability to “distribute accurate information.”
In the runup to the election, the city has “communicated heavily” with the business community to make certain individual businesses “have the resources and guidance needed to prepare” for rallies and large demonstrations. The preparations have included everything from severe weather and COVID-19 outbreaks to “possible protests stemming from not knowing who the winner of the presidential election is until the days following Election Day.”
• Close coordination between the Department of Public Health and the city election board to make certain polling places in Chicago have “cleaning and disinfection protocols, traffic flow guidelines to ensure social distancing and required face coverings for all employees.”
Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady urged Chicagoans planning to vote in person to avoid crowds, wear a face mask, maintain at least 6 feet of social distance and wash their hands before and after casting their ballots.
“Vote with confidence, knowing that we have done everything we can to keep you safe from COVID-19,” Arwady said.