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Latest looting leaves a lot to unpack: shock, anger, sadness — and heartbreak

For the second time in barely two months, we are left to contemplate whether it has come to this: that criminals can act with impunity on what we have always believed to be the safest streets in Chicago. 

A person walks past a McDonald’s restaurant at 36 W. Randolph St. after looting broke out overnight in the Loop and surrounding neighborhoods, Monday morning.
A person walks past a McDonald’s restaurant at 36 W. Randolph St. after looting broke out overnight in the Loop and surrounding neighborhoods, Monday morning.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The most telling video from Chicago’s latest bout of downtown looting has to be the one that shows two men walking nonchalantly down the street pushing their newly-acquired fancy suitcases.

Big and bold, with little more than a glance over a shoulder, they’re in no particular hurry as they make their getaway — not unlike the tourists we might normally expect to see striking a similar pose on Michigan Avenue after vacating their Airbnb and killing time until their flight home.

But tourists are few and far between right now because of the pandemic, and in their place, we are faced with an organized criminal element that seems capable of outmanning and outmaneuvering the police at any time of their choosing.

For the second time in barely two months, we are left to contemplate whether it has come to this: that criminals can act with impunity on what we have always believed to be the safest streets in Chicago.

It’s a heartbreaking reality, a gut punch to our collective sense of security.

Because if it’s truly the case that police cannot secure the goose that lays the golden egg, the downtown area that provides the bulk of the jobs and most of the tax revenue on which this city relies, then Chicago truly is circling the drain.

I apologize if that sounds melodramatic, because that’s not normally how I think. But I’ve spent the day cycling rapidly through the stages of grief for our great city — and find myself trapped between shock, anger and sadness. I suspect many of you are in the same place.

We knew after the first bout of civil unrest following the George Floyd killing that the city couldn’t afford for it to happen again, knowing full well that it might. And yet it managed to catch us with our guard down.

A man sweeps up outside Paul Young Fine Jewelers after looting broke out in the Loop and surrounding neighborhoods overnight, Monday morning.
A man sweeps up outside Paul Young Fine Jewelers after looting broke out in the Loop and surrounding neighborhoods overnight, Monday morning.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia /Chicago Sun-Times

Most of us made peace with the destruction and the looting the first time, understanding that the country was due for a reckoning over race and that there were greater injustices in play.

But this wasn’t about that, no matter what really happened in this latest shooting by police in Englewood. This was a power play by the same people who terrorize other neighborhoods.

I watched on television Monday morning as Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Supt. David Brown engaged in fingerpointing, casting blame on Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and the judiciary. Then Lightfoot exploded on a mild-mannered television reporter who rightly called her out on it, displaying a character trait that is growing tiresome.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot answers questions regarding a police shootout and looting in front city officials during a news conference at the Chicago Police Headquarters at 3510 S Michigan on Monday.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot answers questions regarding a police shootout and looting in front city officials during a news conference at the Chicago Police Headquarters at 3510 S Michigan on Monday.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Brown wanted us to know how smart police had been to deploy 400 officers to respond to the downtown unrest as soon as they caught wind of it on social media, never fully explaining why that was insufficient to quell the disturbance. Could it be that he needed to send 800?

The mayor had spent the weekend obsessing over an embarrassing party at Montrose Point where social distancing was not observed. She was so busy solving the problem by petulantly erecting snow fences around the shoreline that she may not have noticed her police brass were still unprepared to adequately respond to a real public safety emergency.

Later I drove downtown to see Foxx respond in person to what she called “dishonest blame games,” and not surprisingly, she did not accept any.

CBD Kratom at 28 E. Randolph St. after looting broke out in the Loop and surrounding neighborhoods overnight, Monday morning.
CBD Kratom at 28 E. Randolph St. after looting broke out in the Loop and surrounding neighborhoods overnight, Monday morning.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Unfortunately for Foxx, she is the only person in the immediate chain of responsibility who is on the ballot this fall. That probably doesn’t mean anything in overwhelmingly Democratic Cook County, but as Foxx herself said, this is a “weird” year.

Her Republican opponent, Pat O’Brien, is a former judge and high-ranking prosecutor with legitimate credentials, albeit a little conservative for my taste.

Anyhow, Foxx said people are looking for answers not blame.

Unfortunately, no one seems to have any of those, either.

On the way to Foxx’s news conference, I noticed it was difficult to know whether I was looking at newly boarded-up buildings or ones that just hadn’t completed their repairs from the first time, a reflection of our sorry state of affairs.

On the way home, I was blocked from driving up Michigan Avenue by an array of squad cars blocking every intersection from Ohio to Oak Street, our welcome mat to the world.

I didn’t see any suitcases.