It was a Sunday afternoon of contrasts in Austin.
On North Austin Boulevard an eighth grader in cap and gown posed in front of congratulatory signs and balloons. A mile away, in the shopping mall at North Avenue and Cicero, looters ran across a chaotic street shedding empty shoe boxes as they ran. The Forman Mills store was wide open as were stores further west in the strip mall.
Lines were long at McDonald’s and Popeyes drive thru lanes, but small liquor stores and cell phone shops were broken into and looted from North Avenue to Madison along Cicero. Cars doubled and tripled parked on Cicero near Lake Street as a small liquor store was looted at 3:30. Ninety minutes later a larger liquor store near the same intersection was broken into on the east side of Cicero.
Earlier in the day, at around 1 p.m., people crowded around the Family Dollar at 4247 W. Madison St., as afternoon traffic slowed to a stand-still. A man with a large cardboard box crossed the street while commotion grew outside of the store. No police presence was detected in the area. About five minutes later, however, squad cars were seen speeding west on Washington Boulevard.
Teenagers piled out of the back seats of cars and into traffic when drivers could not park. Meanwhile on nearby side streets residents gathered on porches enjoying the cool, sunny afternoon.
Chicago police had a slight presence for much of Sunday afternoon though dozens of officers in riot gear made stands at two different spots on Madison Street. At 4 p.m. they were stretched across Madison at Cicero. But just after 5 p.m. the corner was dominated by the fire department as it put down a smoky fire in the old storefront – a cell phone store — on the southeast corner of the intersection.
“They shouldn’t be burning up shit,” one man standing on Madison, just east of Kostner, told a Chicago Tribune reporter. “I can’t even go the store now to (buy) liquor. All (that) is not going to help with nothing.”
Oak Park police blocked Chicago Avenue at Austin Boulevard before 3 p.m. to keep cars from entering the city. Oak Park Commander Dave Jacobson said the intersection had been blocked at the request of Chicago police “to try to calm things in Austin.” Asked where problem spots existed there, Jacobson said, “pretty much in all of Austin.” Oak Park police were evident at the Austin Boulevard intersections at Madison Street and North Avenue, but as of late afternoon those intersections were open.
Second District Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer, a longtime North Lawndale resident, took to his Facebook page on Sunday evening to remind people of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 9 p.m. curfew, which is in place until 6 a.m. until further notice, her office said.
Karl Brinson, the president of the Westside Branch NAACP and a longtime Austin resident, said he was getting frequent calls about the looting. In response to the unrest, Brinson released a statement.
“Never burned one building or car. Never robbed or looted one store. Never destroyed this beautiful city but have effectively worked to save the world. It is sad to watch as more Black lives are lost and property is destroyed,” Brinson said.
“Five years ago we made a clear and articulate request for police reform. For we could foresee actions like this on the horizon. As you know we have had to bring legal actions against the city, we uncovered and revealed your actions regarding a decades old, unjust collective bargaining agreement, and to date, no avail. We gave directions to save our city and it falls on deaf ears. Nothing we have asked for has ever been enacted. Just words on words. Chicago is a leader in the nation with the strongest, most ignored consent decree in the country.”
Hours before the looting ramped up on Sunday, First District Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, a lifelong Austin resident, struck a note of resolve on his morning talk show.
“Though I find it difficult to rest in this moment, I do believe we can locate peace,” he said, addressing the national outrage that has followed the May 25 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
“We can locate a level of rest that has been afforded those who maintain a position of privilege,” he said. “Even though sometimes it’s difficult to find rest in the literal sense, I do believe that there is a resolve that our people possess that allows for us to find comfort and solace even in the midst of turmoil.”