It started with a false story on social media about police shooting a black “child.” Within minutes, hundreds of young black men and women filled the streets, targeting businesses along the Magnificent Mile, in River North, and in the Central Business District. This was the scene playing out in Chicago on Sunday, August 9th and continued through the early part of Monday morning.
People sat in idling cars as looters calmly brought them merchandise. The thieves cleaned out high-end stores like Gucci, Dior, and Hermes, taking everything, including the mannequins. A woman livestreamed a video of herself running through a department store muttering that she couldn’t find a tool to detach expensive garments from their racks. “I can’t breathe!” she exclaimed, either in protest or fatigue.
Others set their sights on the police tasked to protect businesses and the city. By daybreak, the city had tallied more than 100 arrests, 13 officers injured, two shot, and countless businesses looted. “These individuals engaged in what can only be described as brazen and excessive criminal looting and destruction,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a press conference. “And to be clear, this has nothing to do with legitimate, protected First Amendment expression.” Lightfoot later called upon “our state’s attorney and our courts to make sure that these individuals who are arrested, and those to come, are held accountable. Put your best people on this.”
In a separate press conference, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx fielded tough questions about the mayor’s comments, her response to arrests since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, and a recent Chicago Tribune report that her office has dropped over 25,000 felony cases. She stated that the goal of her office is to “be thoughtful about our prosecution of gun crimes and violent crimes” and not “waste resources on non-violent offenses.”
Where does this leave the city? Many business owners must decide whether to reopen after being looted twice, with no reason to feel confident that greater security is in the offing. While criminals alone are to blame for the looting, city officials in charge of public safety have yet to offer a clear plan on how to deal with persistent lawlessness. The mayor has consistently said that mass looting, vandalism, and violence are unacceptable, but Chicago’s police seem confused about what is expected of them.
Protests have been going on in the city for 50 days now. The Chicago Police Department is not equipped to handle this level of continued, high-stress confrontation. Officers have had their workdays extended and off days canceled on several occasions. They are tired and overworked.
Foxx openly admits to ignoring “nonviolent” offenders. But where “nonviolence” used to mean “peaceful,” the new, more expansive definition of the word includes property crime, public disturbance, and looting. Under these terms, most of the people causing the mayhem are technically “nonviolent.” But under any definition, nonviolent crimes are not victimless crimes.
The solution here is simple: the police must arrest offenders, and the prosecutor must prosecute them. Foxx should put her personal feelings about drug offenses and “nonviolent” crimes aside and do her job. If Chicagoans want to ease criminal penalties for some crimes, they can push their legislators to do so, via statute—but having a state’s attorney openly ignore current law is destructive to the community.
Elected officials also need to call out bad behavior for what it is, without qualifying their views by saying that such behavior detracts from “the movement.” Which movement do they mean? The movement of woke whites pandering to blacks? Or the movement to defund the police—the same police receiving calls in record numbers and being blamed for not doing enough to stop crime? Consider the statement on the looting in Chicago from members of Black Lives Matter: “When protesters attack high-end retail stores that are owned by the wealthy and service the wealthy, that is not ‘our’ city and has never been meant for us.” At a rally in support of arrested looters, a BLM organizer defending looting as a form of “reparations.” This is the anarchistic movement that too many American elected officials and leaders are celebrating.
BLM also had a message for Lightfoot. “The mayor clearly has not learned anything since May, and she would be wise to understand that the people will keep rising up until the [Chicago Police Department] is abolished and our Black communities are fully invested in.” This ludicrous proposition does not reflect the wishes of most black Chicagoans. As Kay Winding, co-founder of Chicago’s Black Community Collaborative, told me, “Policing in our city should not be politicized, the police should be allowed to do their jobs, and the community wants, and needs, federal assistance.”
There is no substitute for public order, and public order must be restored in Chicago. It’s the least that law-abiding citizens and business owners deserve.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images