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Chicago Limits Downtown Access After Night of Violent Protests

Several street bridges over the Chicago River remain closed early Sunday morning, May 31, 2020 in Chicago, after a night of unrest and protests over the death of George Floyd.

Chicago officials took extraordinary steps Sunday to patrol and restrict access to the city's downtown in the hopes of preventing further chaos after a night of tense protests over the death of George Floyd that included violent clashes, hundreds of arrests and smashed windows at stores and banks.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who had already ordered an indefinite nightly 9 p.m. curfew, said the Illinois National Guard had been requested to help keep order. She said only essential workers would be allowed into the central business district, city trains and bus service would be suspended, major streets would be blocked with city sanitation trucks and Chicago River drawbridges allowing pedestrians and vehicles into downtown would remain lifted.

"Seeing the murder of George Floyd sickened me and it still does," Lightfoot said at a news conference, taking several breaks to compose herself. "But rather than respond to his death as we should and focus our energy toward doing the hard work to create the change that we need, we have instead been forced to turn our focus and energy toward preventing wanton violence and destruction"

She called for a 5 p.m. moment of silence for Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died last Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for several minutes as he pleaded for air and eventually stopped moving. That officer, Derek Chauvin, and the three others who were arresting Floyd have been fired, but only Chauvin has been charged — he faces counts of third-degree murder and manslaughter.

Floyd's death and the broader issue of the treatment of black people by police inspired protests in dozens of cities throughout the country, including other Illinois communities such as Peoria and Rockford.

A pedestrian looks into a 7-Eleven store early Sunday morning, May 31, 2020 in Chicago, after a night of unrest and protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis.
A pedestrian looks into a 7-Eleven store early Sunday morning, May 31, 2020 in Chicago, after a night of unrest and protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis.

More protests were planned for Sunday in Chicago and Lightfoot said city officials were working with activists to find alternate locations to downtown where they could demonstrate. Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he would activate 375 Illinois National Guard soldiers to assist local law enforcement.

The downtown Chicago demonstrations that drew thousands started peacefully Saturday afternoon in a plaza, with protesters reading the names of black people who have died at the hands of police. But that gave way to violence and destruction that continued overnight Sunday in Chicago and elsewhere.

Police used batons to beat back demonstrators as police cars were set ablaze and windows were smashed at businesses ranging from neighborhood convenience stores to high-end Michigan Avenue shops.

At least six people were shot, one fatally, in four shootings during the chaos. A 26-year-old man was shot and killed after getting into a verbal exchange with a suspect who got out of a car.

There were 240 arrests, according to Police Superintendent David Brown. He said 20 police officers were injured, including two who will require surgery.

City officials suggested that the vandalism had been a coordinated effort, which required the city to take the extra steps to prevent further destruction.

"This was not a First Amendment protest," Brown said. "'This was a synchronized strategy to loot and burn and destroy."

Still, some protesters questioned certain restrictions, saying Lightfoot's late Saturday curfew didn't allow enough time to safely exit downtown because many streets were blocked and public transportation had been restricted. The American Civil Liberties of Union of Illinois said an indefinite curfew raised "serious constitutional questions that need to be remedied" and said it was considering taking legal action.

Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, defended her response as necessary for safety.

City officials said they were still assessing the damage and didn't have a monetary estimate ready. Among the businesses burned in the chaos was Central Camera, a family-owned store that has been operating downtown since 1899.

"I'm going to rebuild and make it just as good or better, so I'm not depressed at all," owner Don Flesch told WBBM-TV.

Volunteers swept up broken glass and cleaned debris Sunday. Among them was Michelle Eleby, who was cleaning up outside a downtown Macy's store where several windows had been broken.

The 42-year-old biracial woman said Floyd's death was "enraging" particularly as she lives in fear of racial profiling for herself and family members. Her father is black and her mother is white.

"I needed to do something," she said of her motivations to clean up. "We can't sit back and hope the solution is going to come."


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