Chicago leaders cautiously optimistic as city reopens amid calming protests: ‘We are not letting our guard down’

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot delivers a televised message to the public about events arising from the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot delivers a televised message to the public about events arising from the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)

On Chicago’s first day easing coronavirus restrictions on city businesses, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and police Superintendent David Brown expressed hope that the city’s civil unrest was calming.

But, they said, the city remains on guard against both the COVID-19 disease and looting.

“We’re still only one day where we have some calming of the activities of looting and disorderly conduct. We are not letting our guard down,” Brown said. “We’re cautiously optimistic but prepared for this to escalate in case it does.”

The city’s keeping all of its resources in place, including the National Guard, and making strategic adjustments to help make sure residents in the neighborhoods feel safe, “given the looting,” Brown said.

Still, after being rocked by widespread looting downtown and in city neighborhoods over the weekend, Chicago experienced on Tuesday its quietest night of protests since they started, Brown said. Officials also recorded the lowest number of arrests since the weekend, with 274, Brown said.

The city also had the lowest number of looting calls and arrests, he said. There were 46 disorderly conduct arrests, he said, mostly for people throwing rocks or verbally assaulting city cops.

Reiterating a point she’s made for days, most notably in a televised speech Tuesday evening, Lightfoot said the city continues to encourage peaceful protest.

“We are continuing to preach a message of unity and honoring George Floyd and the victims of all police violence,” Lightfoot said.

"As I announced last night in my address to the city, we are setting up a new fund starting at $10 million to help support businesses that have been affected by recent events in neighborhoods,” the mayor added. “We’re continuing to push insurance companies to do the right thing by their customers and cut through red tape and start cutting checks in neighborhoods.”

In her speech, Lightfoot also laid out a series of long-stalled police reform measures she wants to implement within 90 days, which include teaching Chicago cops about the history of neighborhoods taught from the perspective of community members, inspired by youth-led neighborhood tours done by My Block, My Hood, My City.

The city also will implement an officer wellness program and complete an officer support program that supports cops in crisis, mandate crisis intervention and procedural justice training for all officers, and establish a new recruit program on police-community relations and community policing with views from the community about what works, she said.

But those measures have drawn criticism for not going far enough, and Lightfoot’s administration is in a dispute with activists over how a civilian oversight commission of the Police Department would work, with critics wanting more power given to people outside City Hall.

Asked about the status of negotiations, which stalled in March, Lightfoot said, “There are I think two or three issues that have been an impediment to getting past this point. My team is hard at work on trying to see what we can forge common ground. … But these are challenging issues, which is why we haven’t been able to have a breakthrough.”

Addressing complaints alleging police misconduct in dealing with protesters, Brown said the department is “firm on ensuring those cases are looked at and, if necessary, investigated and discipline given out. We will not tolerate — zero tolerance — for our officers crossing the line and violating someone’s rights or using excessive force or violating our use of force policy.

“While we’re not perfect, for the most part our officers have been professional and have made Chicago very proud in the way they conduct themselves,” Brown said.

Although Wednesday marked the city’s first day of cautious reopening, not all businesses welcomed back customers. Numerous downtown eateries remained closed, including Portillo’s, and many businesses around the city couldn’t reopen due to recent looting and concerns for more.

Rosa Escareno, the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection commissioner, noted the bittersweet nature of Chicago’s reopening amid the recent unrest.

“We have been out in the community pretty much since the crisis began, and we started to see a lot of issues of destruction in the many communities,” Escareno said. “I will tell you that the businesses are extremely excited to be reopening but, obviously, in many of our neighborhoods the hurt has just deepened and has made it much more difficult for them to reopen.”

Public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said the city’s seen 46,739 coronavirus cases and continues to add hundreds more each day.

As the city continues to open up, she said, “We will need to continue to keep COVID in mind.”

Lightfoot said the city chose to reopen on a Wednesday in part to give restaurants a chance at “a soft opening before any kind of weekend traffic.”

“In light of what’s happened over the last couple days, some are choosing to open now and really kind of getting some cadence with all the safety and public health measures they need to take,” Lightfoot said. “Others are saying nope, I’m going to wait a few days and see how the dust clears. But really, today isn’t a mandatory reopening. We’re open and then individual businesses really have to make their own call about how they’re going to do that and when.”

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