Mayor praises Chicago police restraint after teens trash South Loop convenience store

Brandon Johnson says his team has tried to dissuade young people from wreaking havoc, and it’s paying off. Forty youths were arrested Sunday.

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At City Hall Wednesday, Mayor Brandon Johnson praised the restraint of police officers who responded to disruptive teens in the South Loop Sunday and thanked interim Chicago Police Supt. Fred Waller for sacrificing his summer to hold down the fort.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Mayor Brandon Johnson on Wednesday applauded Chicago police officers for the “restraint” they showed in making just 40 arrests after a teen takeover in the South Loop and said his administration has “intercepted” many other potentially destructive gatherings.

Johnson’s team has made a concerted effort to coordinate with civic leaders, community-based organizations and street intervention teams to dissuade young people from wreaking havoc.

“We’re seeing some of the fruit of that labor. The number of trends that we have intercepted over the course of these first — how long has it been now, y’all, 12 weeks? — it’s been tremendous,” Johnson said.

Those behind-the scenes measures were not enough to stop the chaotic scene that unfolded Sunday night in the 100 block of West Roosevelt Road.

A large crowd summoned on social media stormed into a convenience store by breaking windows, stripped merchandise from the shelves and left garbage strewn in the parking lot. The teens then began fighting each other and jumping on cars. Police asked them to disperse, but they refused. Forty arrests were made.

As out-of-control as it seemed, it could have been worse if rank-and-file police officers hadn’t exercised restraint.

“To the best of their ability, I believe that they attempted to engage with our young people with community partners, giving as much warning as they possibly could,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, arrests were made, and unfortunately, some damage was caused. [But] the level of sensitivity and patience that our officers expressed, I’m appreciative of that. That is constitutional. That is a system of care.

“The officers displayed a great deal of restraint. And it is not up to law enforcement alone. We need everyone to provide systems of care so that our young people have positive outlets and they’re not in a position where it could lead to disruptive, destructive behavior.”

After the April 15 downtown rampage and crime wave by a mob of young people that went viral on social media, Johnson was criticized for condemning the behavior, but saying that it was “not constructive to demonize youth who otherwise have been starved of opportunities in their communities.”

On Wednesday, the mayor risked yet another political backlash. It happened when he scolded reporters who questioned his use of the word “trend” and, instead, referred to Sunday night’s disturbance as a “mob action.”

“We’re not talking about mob actions. ... It’s important that we speak of these dynamics in an appropriate way. This is not to obfuscate what is actually taking place. But we have to be very careful when we use language to describe certain behavior. There’s history in this city. I mean — to refer to children as, like, baby Al Capones is not appropriate,” Johnson said.

A former Chicago Public Schools teacher, Johnson said there are always going to be students who “want to find spaces where they can cut up.”

It’s his job to build “systems to prevent that from happening. If you’re between the ages of 16 and 21, there aren’t a lot of places where you can go and hang out. There just isn’t. You’re too old for Chuck E. Cheese … and then you can’t go to a club,” the mayor said.

“And so, the preventative dynamic is being far more strategic about finding out when these [events] are taking place and then, showing up with not just law enforcement but the full force of government, other agencies as well as our community partners to help deter and redirect young people. That’s gonna be a constant effort as we build out spaces where young people can actually come and hang out in their neighborhoods or places outside their neighborhoods that are safe,” he said.

Johnson said he is looking forward to hearing “presentations” from the three finalists for police superintendent before making a pivotal appointment that could define his tenure and the duration of it. The deadline for making that appointment is late next week.

In the meantime, the mayor said he is beyond grateful to interim Chicago Police Supt. Fred Waller for sacrificing his summer to hold down the fort.

“Supt. Waller giving confidence and building the morale of our rank-and-file members has been absolutely remarkable. Quite frankly, it’s something that some people didn’t believe we could do,” Johnson said.

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