Prosecutors approved 43 felony charges in connection with looting across Chicago earlier this week, and city officials laid out a series of plans Friday that they say would prevent future incidents.
"What happened Sunday night into Monday morning should never have happened," Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a press conference Friday afternoon. "There can never be any place in Chicago where businesses are afraid to open, where residents and visitors are afraid to travel and shop, or where employees are afraid to go to work."
Lightfoot said the city's police department would be creating a "specialized, 20-person unit" to monitor open-sourced social media posts for any signs of "suspicious activity." A separate task force in partnership with the FBI would be focused on looting activity, she said.
"In 55 years, I’ve never seen it like this in Chicago," said Emmerson Buie Jr., special agent in charge of the Chicago Office of the FBI. "It’s enough, and we need to take a stand."
The city is also developing a plan for faster geographic lockdowns, building more ballasts and concrete barriers, and will continue to free up resources from the city's sanitation and transportation departments for use by police officers. Lightfoot encouraged businesses downtown and across the city to report criminal activity through a hotline.
An increased police presence and restricted access to downtown overnight is expected to continue throughout the weekend, city officials said. The Illinois State Police would be deployed to restrict access to affected areas of the city, and officers with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office would be deployed into neighborhoods, Lightfoot said. Police officers would be working 12-hour shifts, and days off would be canceled, Brown said.
Parts of Lake Shore Drive, expressway ramps and CTA stops downtown would be closed, and all downtown bridges would be up, the Office of Emergency Management and Communications said.
"Chicago does not, I repeat, does not belong to looters and thieves," Police Superintendent David Brown said. "If you are participating in a car caravan that is looting, we will do everything that we can to stop you, and we will arrest you."
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said of the 43 felony charges in connection with the looting early Monday morning, 28 are for burglary and looting, several for aggravated battery and gun possession, and at least one for attempted murder, theft and criminal damage to property.
Her office has approved nearly 350 felony charges since the end of May, she said, when Chicago saw its first round of looting in the wake of George Floyd's death in police custody. Of those cases, 22 have been adopted by the U.S. attorney for federal charges; Foxx did not provide any additional information about the federal charges.
Chicagoans are living through "extraordinary times," Foxx said, as they face economic hardship, coronavirus grief, destruction of property and the loss of young children to gun violence.
Foxx said her office has charged more than 400 felony gun cases since the start of "Operation Legend" on July 22, when President Donald Trump said he would "surge" about 300 federal law enforcement officials into Chicago to help battle gun violence. In the first seven months of the year, 1,872 people were arrested and charged with felony gun charges, Foxx said.
Chicago looting: Ronald McDonald House near children's hospital damaged
Foxx came under fire earlier this week when Lightfoot and Brown appeared to suggest her office had "emboldened" looters by failing to charge more people in the wake of the first round of looting at the end of May.
"Criminals took to the street with the confidence that there would be no consequences for their actions," Brown said in a press conference Monday
Lightfoot called on county judges and prosecutors to hold people accountable to the "abject criminal behavior."
"This is not legitimate First Amendment protected speech. These were not poor people engaged in petty theft to feed themselves and their family," she said. "This was straight-up felony criminal conduct."
Widespread looting rocked Chicago's Magnificent Mile shopping district and other parts of downtown early Monday as police say hundreds of windows were smashed and stores were robbed. More than 100 people were arrested, and 13 officers were injured, Brown said. At least one security guard and a civilian were hospitalized in critical condition after being shot, Brown said.
About 400 officers were sent to the downtown area after seeing posts on social media that Brown said encouraged a "caravan" of cars to engage in looting. The social media posts appeared to have been prompted by an incident Sunday in which police officers wounded a 20-year-old man.
Shooting that police say sparked looting: Chicago man charged with attempted murder
Chicago police arrested and charged Latrell Allen of Englewood with attempted murder after they say he shot at officers. Officers returned fire and hit Allen, who was in stable condition, police said. The officers were not wearing body cameras, and Chicago's civilian police oversight agency was investigating the shooting.
After the encounter, a Facebook video circulated falsely claiming police had shot and killed a 15-year-old boy, and the misinformation fueled what later turned into looting, Brown said.
But activists with Black Lives Matter Chicago have cast doubt on the police narrative of the incident, saying in a statement Monday that Allen "ran away, rightfully fearing for his safety in this dangerous interaction with racist armed police."
Chicago police "claims the victim shot first and that they found a gun on the scene. These details are uncorroborated, partially because CPD also claims there is no body camera footage available for this interaction," the group said.
Lightfoot said Friday that the city was acquiring an additional 500 body cameras "to ensure that every CPD officer is equipped at all times."
Meanwhile, more than 2,200 people had expressed interest in a Saturday protest against police brutality on the South Side. Organizers said the group planned to shut down a major freeway, echoing a similar protest in 2018.
"I have great concerns about allowing anyone, ever, to get on expressways, particularly in this time," Lightfoot said Friday. "These are very complicated, delicate situations."
Nearly 1,000 complaints have been filed against Chicago police officers since the death of George Floyd, according to Civilian Office of Police Accountability spokesperson Ephraim Eaddy. The agency is pursuing investigations into 170 of them.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Chicago looting: 43 felony charges approved by Cook County prosecutor