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Mayor Lori Lightfoot Defends Chicago’s Response to Looters

Many restaurant owners spent the weekend picking up broken glass

A storefront of a coffee shop with a sign that reads “RIP George Floyd.”
Wormhole Coffee in Wicker Park.
Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago

After an emotional weekend when crowds marched through Chicago to protest police brutality and the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Mayor Lori Lightfoot took the podium during a Monday morning news conference to blast looters who broke windows and stole from small businesses.

On Monday, Lightfoot reminded Chicagoans that most protesters were peaceful and exercising their First Amendment rights. The AP reports more than 4,000 were arrested across the country over the weekend. According to Chicago police Supt. David Brown, 699 people were arrested on Sunday in Chicago alone, the majority charged with crimes related to looting. Downtown restaurants, including Flight Club, Seoul Taco, Brindille, Sunda, and Bar Cargo saw windows smashed by looters.

Over at Mabe’s Deli in Chatham, windows were smashed as people tried to gain entry to the neighboring liquor store, A&S Liquors. Across the city, liquor stores, like A&S, were targets. Kimbark Beverage Shoppe in Hyde Park and Garfield’s Beverage Warehouse in Wicker Park were among those looted, which Lightfoot described as another challenge to restaurant- and small-business owners already dealing with how COVID-19 has crushed the industry.

“God help us all if we believe that we can express our pain by destroying the hopes, and dreams, and livelihoods, and the fortunes of others,” Lightfoot said on Monday morning. “That’s not the way. That is just not the way.”

Police Supt. Brown also lashed out at those breaking the law. “Mr. George Floyd. We grieve with you and your family,” Brown said. “We are embarrassed by the cops in Minneapolis’s use of force, asphyxiating you on the streets of Minneapolis. We stand with Mr. Floyd’s family. But to the rioters and looters, you disgraced the name of Mr. Floyd by your actions.”

A liquor store with broken windows with a man looking through.
Garfield’s Beverage in Wicker Park was hit by looters on Sunday.
Ashok Selvam/Eater Chicago

Critics have claimed that by closing off downtown access with police, authorities prioritized the downtown area, forcing protesters toward neighborhoods where minorities reside. Lightfoot said on Monday that she was offended by that thinking.

Restaurants appeared, for the most part, to be spared in Lincoln Park, Wicker Park, and Lakeview, where stores were looted. A few restaurants were preparing to have their windows boarded up to prevent future damage. Others, like Wormhole Coffee and MAK — both in Wicker Park — had paper signs on windows with supportive signs for protesters including “Black Lives Matter” and “RIP George Floyd.” Some owners, like David Choi of Seoul Taco in River North, even voiced their support for the protests.

“Am I frustrated? Of course, damn right I am, but Seoul will clean up and live on,” Choi writes. “[L]ives are being senselessly lost, on a way too regular basis, is the way bigger issue. We will clean up and live another day, and fight another day. Please see the bigger picture of this.”

On Monday morning, volunteers were mobilized to sweep up broken glass. My Block, My Hood, My City, is among the groups looking for volunteers, reports Block Club Chicago. On Sunday, Black Lives Matter Chicago organized its own clean-up effort.

Blogger Aaron Oliver, who writes about the Black restaurant scene at Seasoned & Blessed, does have empathy for owners who are dealing with damage. But many have ignored the build up of injustices against African Americans that came before Floyd’s death. Oliver says he fears that “every day a simple walk could be his last.”

“Your building can be replaced,” Oliver said. “Mr. Floyd cannot. Period. The end. How dare you put your business above someone’s life and wellbeing.”

Jason Burrell reiterated Oliver’s stance. He’s the owner of the Long Room, a bar in Irving Park. In an Instagram post Sunday, he wrote: “I’m a black man who has owned a bar on the North Side of Chicago for 20 years. The significance of that has never been lost on me. Our industry is in real jeopardy. The health of our communities are also being threatened. I thought it couldn’t get much worse. And then George Floyd was lynched in broad daylight.”

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