Lightfoot warns looters poised to take advantage of Chauvin verdict: ‘Don’t test us.’

“We are prepared, and we are ready to arrest and bring to prosecution anyone who would dare to take the dreams of our small businesses by looting,” the mayor said Tuesday morning.

SHARE Lightfoot warns looters poised to take advantage of Chauvin verdict: ‘Don’t test us.’
Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a City Hall news conference on Thursday, April 15, 2021.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot says the city will be ready to deal with any unrest after a verdict is reached in the trial of a former Minneapolis police officer on trial for the murder of George Floyd.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot had a warning Tuesday for anyone who dares to hijack peaceful protests tied to the Derek Chauvin verdict and use those demonstrations as an opportunity to launch a third round of looting in Chicago.

“Don’t test us. … Don’t test us. … Don’t test us, because we are ready,” Lightfoot told reporters.

“We are prepared, and we are ready to arrest and bring to prosecution anyone who would dare to take the dreams of our small businesses by looting.”

Lightfoot said she asked Gov. J.B. Pritzker to activate the Illinois National Guard and send 125 uniformed guard members to Chicago to be on “standby,” keeping them close in the event they are needed to support Chicago police.

She called it one of the lessons learned from last year’s demonstrations, when the Chicago Police Department was “outflanked and underprepared” for riots and looting, according to Inspector General Joe Ferguson.

Ferguson’s scathing 124-page report described mistakes at the highest levels of CPD that “failed the public” as well as rank-and-file police officers who were “left to high-stakes improvisation without adequate supervision or guidance.”

“My responsibility is to learn from every experience that we have and make sure that we are better prepared because of that learning — and we are,” Lightfoot said.

Johnny Leland dumps some shards of glass onto a trash pile from the aftermath of protests and looting on the South Side.

Johnny Leland is shown on June 1, 2020, cleaning up after protests and looting on the South Side.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

The mayor said her hope is the National Guard won’t be needed — that whatever the verdict is in Chauvin’s trial for the murder of George Floyd, the protests will remain peaceful.

“They’re on standby. They’re not actually gonna be active unless we need them. They’ll be available and close, but on standby. Physically present in Chicago, but not running posts like they did for a little time last summer,” she said.

“If we need them, they’re here. My hope is we will continue to see what we really have seen since last fall, which is peaceful expression of peoples’ emotions [and] First Amendment rights. But my hope is we won’t need to deploy the National Guard.”

During a news conference Tuesday, Black Lives Matter, Good Kids Mad City and other community activists demanded that Lightfoot call off the National Guard.

They argued the mayor’s request to Pritzker is more evidence she “commands a military operation” and condones police brutality against Black and Brown communities.

Lightfoot stood her ground.

“A lot of people in our city are concerned about their safety and want to make sure that we’re doing absolutely everything that we can to get people safe. If we didn’t prepare and, God forbid, something happened, those groups wouldn’t be standing with me and saying the mayor made the right call. They would fade into the woodwork,” she said.

Chicago police officers clash with protesters near Kinzie and State as thousands in Chicago joined national outrage over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, Saturday afternoon, May 30, 2020.

Chicago police officers clash with protesters near Kinzie and State streets on May 30, 2020, as thousands in Chicago joined national outrage over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

In his post-mortem about last summer’s mistakes, Ferguson accused Lightfoot of rejecting Pritzker’s early offer to call out the National Guard to assist overwhelmed and exhausted Chicago Police officers.

The mayor has called that allegation “completely untrue.” She said there was “never a time that it was offered and we rejected it. ... The first conversation that I ever had with anybody from the state about the National Guard was when I called the governor myself that Saturday night.”

That was late on May 30. Lightfoot has made no apologies for waiting until then to request the Guard. By then, there had been widespread looting in the downtown area, and she and CPD Supt. David Brown determined they needed additional resources.

“I’m a kid who grew up in Ohio down the road from Kent State. My earliest memories are very seared by the then-Ohio governor calling in the National Guard to Kent State, and the result was four students dead. Calling in the National Guard is a very serious matter, one that I did not take lightly,” the mayor said days after Ferguson released his report.

Having said that, Lightfoot acknowledged Tuesday that Pritzker has activated the National Guard at her request several times when the public didn’t know about it.

“We’ve done that. You haven’t seen it for example when we knew that the grand jury was gonna be releasing information about the death of Breonna Taylor. We had the National Guard on standby. They were on standby during the time leading up to the federal election last year,” she said Tuesday.

“We learned a lot over the course of last summer and fall about additional things that needed to be done. Last week, we activated … our neighborhood protection plan, which is putting our officers on high-alert, very visible. Canceling some days off. Making sure we had the resources … with sheriff’s police, State Police and our infrastructure departments. We have over 300 assets out in neighborhoods and downtown, protecting commercial corridors.”

Illinois National Guard deployed at Wabash Avenue and Roosevelt Road on Wednesday afternoon, anticipating protests later that night after charges were announced in the slaying of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

Illinois National Guard deployed at Wabash Avenue and Roosevelt Road in September before a grand jury announced its decision in the death of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times


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