Mayor Lori Lightfoot acknowledged Tuesday that Chicago residents and businesses are justifiably “fearful” after a second round of looting she likened to “organized crime” and said she’s been “non-stop on the phone” to offer “concrete solutions” that reassure them.
Even before the second round of looting that ravaged giant swaths of downtown, River North and Lincoln Park, Lightfoot was simultaneously grappling with violent crime, civil unrest and a coronavirus pandemic that has caused unprecedented hardship and blown a $700 million hole in her 2020 budget.
When a police shooting in Englewood gave organized teams of looters the excuse to replay Chicago’s nightmare, it raised legitimate questions about whether businesses that survived the stay at home shutdown and sustained heavy losses during Round 1 of the looting would have the stomach to rebuild yet again.
Lightfoot understands their fears about being protected if and when it happens again. That’s why she’s been burning the phone and Zoom lines reassuring them that, as she put it, “We are going to see our way through this challenging confluence of events.”
The way to do that, the mayor said, is to build the strongest possible cases against the looters and offer “concrete solutions” to protect residents and business owners who are concerned about the city’s ability to protect them if and when it happens again, as Black Lives Matter has warned that it will.
“People are fearful. They are afraid. And it’s up to us as leaders to offer concrete solutions and a path forward. And that’s what we’re gonna continue to do,” the mayor said.
Lightfoot says she’s spent much of the last two days “literally non-stop” on the phone and on Zoom conferences with residents, business owners and CEOs “with an interest in the downtown area because they live there, they work there or they shop there.”
Access to downtown was restricted again Tuesday night. Starting at 9 p.m., the city planned to raise bridges, shut down parts of Lake Shore Drive and close expressway ramps.
With such measures in place for the “foreseeable future,” she’s also been on the phone reassuring neighborhood businesses that city trucks would be used to protect their local commercial corridors.
“I want to make sure that, one, I’m listening and I’m hearing the raw emotions of people who are afraid and want concrete solutions and that I’m reaching out and offering very specific, concrete solutions,” she said.
“Part of the reason that I’ve emphasized that we are gonna not spare any expense to bring those who are responsible for looting … to justice is because I understand that people were just starting to recover. They were just starting to get their footing.”
Lightfoot said this has been a “helluva year” for small business owners. Many are neighborhood businesses hiring local residents and have been in the same family for generations.
“We can’t allow criminals to tarnish their legacy, their businesses, but more importantly their hope. I’m not gonna let that happen. And we are going hard at the people who are responsible,” she said.
“It’s not opportunistic and spontaneous when you already have U-Haul vans and cargo vans and you come equipped with precision tools to break into stores, to break into safes, to haul off cash registers and when you are coming with arms to fight off the police. … While there absolutely was a layer of opportunistic individuals, this was also organized crime. And we are going to break these crews and these rings and we are gonna bring them to justice. That is what we owe the residents of this city. Period.”
On a conference call with City Hall reporters, Lightfoot and Police Supt. David Brown acknowledged the police shooting in Englewood that helped trigger the downtown looting would have been more easily justified by police bodycam video.
The lack of video allowed erroneous rumors to spread on social media that Chicago police had shot an unarmed 15-year-old. The man who was shot was 20-year-old Latrell Allen. He has been charged with two counts of attempted murder for shooting at officers before they shot him.
Brown told Lightfoot about two weeks ago “there was an issue with the number of body cameras. And that does directly stem from the terms of the [police] contract … previously negotiated by the prior [Emanuel] administration which, as we now know, is highly, highly problematic and we are aggressively working to renegotiate,” the mayor said.
“We can’t have people who are out on the street who are interfacing with the public on a regular basis that don’t have body cameras,” Lightfoot said, adding that Brown has “initiated efforts now to make sure that we have body cameras in every team that’s out there engaging with members of the public.”
Brown said he’s “scrubbing the inventory of body cams so that we can redistribute a contingent of body cams to some of these teams that were created from officers who were at one time in plainclothes and now are in the neighborhoods patrolling them.”
Lightfoot and Brown have both accused the state’s attorney’s office of going easy on looters during Round 1.
On Tuesday, the mayor said there is “natural tension” between prosecutors and police, but she hopes to build a “healthy” working relationship. That’s even though the mayor claimed there has been an “evolution” in the state’s attorney’s standards for prosecuting cases as a felony and that the Chicago Police Department is trying to “adapt to those standards.”