Divisive martyrs: Chicago’s latest excuse for mass looting marks another dubious case to undermine protest movement’s credibility


By Tony Cox, a US journalist who has written or edited for Bloomberg and several major daily newspapers.

We don’t even know his name yet, but a 20-year-old man who had already wracked up four arrests on his record was shot and wounded by Chicago police after shooting at them and running. In so doing, he inspired a movement.

That movement took the form of a “very orchestrated” caravan of cars overnight Sunday-Monday that rushed aggrieved parties about 10 miles from Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, where the shootout with police took place, to the Magnificent Mile downtown shopping district. Once there, folks expressed their outrage over systemic racism by helping themselves to whatever they could carry off from some of Chicago’s poshest stores – from Nordstrom to Gucci to Louis Vuitton to a Tesla dealership.

Police chase a couple guys out of the Macy’s and dozens more come in. #ChicagoScanner#Chicagopic.twitter.com/61wKHUMWmL

— Paige Fry (@paigexfry) August 10, 2020

It didn’t matter that police were called Sunday afternoon to investigate reports of a man carrying a gun and confronted a person who matched the suspect’s description. It didn’t matter that the man responded by shooting at police and fleeing on foot. It didn’t matter that Chicago is suffering an epidemic of gun violence in which young black people are killing dozens of other black people just about every month.

There were scores to settle against a system that is allegedly hunting down black people and killing them, and if Italian and French designers had to pay the price for righteous retribution, then so be it.

There were casualties, of course. A security guard and at least one bystander were shot. Thirteen police were injured. Countless businesses had another nail driven into their coffins after enduring a Covid-19 lockdown and a previous round of violent protests and looting after Minneapolis black man George Floyd died in police custody on May 25. It was all part of the price to be paid for this latest round of racial outcry.

Except, as Mayor Lori Lightfoot pointed out, this had nothing to do with “First Amendment protected activity.” Nor was it spontaneous or reflective of social injustice. “This was obviously very orchestrated,” said the Rev. Michael Pflger, a Catholic priest on Chicago’s south side.

Before Operation Shopping Spree began, dozens of protesters confronted police in Englewood after a false rumor was spread (perhaps on purpose) that officers had shot a 15-year-old boy. Police blamed an “agitator” for “getting people worked up without having the full story.”

That this wasn’t a legitimate form of protest is inarguable, though I suspect someone at CNN or MSNBC may be trying to write a looter-apologist script right now. Moreover, the incident that was chosen to trigger the crowd’s reaction was tragically wrong, and it’s not the first time such a dubious martyr became the call to action.

Sunday was the six-year anniversary of one of the most consequential police shootings in US history, the killing of Michael Brown. The 18-year-old Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Missouri, policeman, setting off riots that torched local businesses and led to protests in other US cities. “Hands up, don’t shoot” became the rallying cry of protesters, signifying how Brown was murdered while holding his hands up and submitting to police.

The problem was, that slogan was based on a false witness. Evidence showed that Brown, who stood 6-foot-4 and weighed nearly 300 pounds, was assaulting officer Darren Wilson and trying to take the policeman’s gun when he was shot. Just as in Sunday’s incident in Chicago, the alleged victim wasn’t a victim of police brutality.

Nevertheless, the Ferguson case remains with us. Lest we forget, Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden reminded us Sunday on Twitter, noting the anniversary of when Brown’s life “was taken in Ferguson, reigniting a movement” and saying, “We must continue the work of tackling systemic racism and reforming policing.”

It’s been six years since Michael Brown’s life was taken in Ferguson — reigniting a movement. We must continue the work of tackling systemic racism and reforming policing.

— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) August 9, 2020

At a time when riots are still ongoing in some US cities, Biden’s message was kerosene. The astonishing thing was, Biden saw fit to tweet so dishonestly even though the Ferguson debacle happened when he was vice president. He and President Barack Obama’s administration was in charge when the US Department of Justice investigated the Brown incident and found that the shooting was justified.

Initial reports from Chicago suggest that Sunday’s police shooting was at least equally justified. And yet, it triggered mayhem. Why do such cases get so much attention and cause so much harm when there are far more legitimate examples of wrongful killings by police? About 1,000 people are killed each year in shootings by US police, and although most are justified, there are tragic cases with innocent victims.

Emphasizing the shaky (or worse) cases undermines the credibility of the protest movement, including Black Lives Matter. It also keeps people from being able to unify on the real issue of police brutality. Pretending that the only motivation for that brutality is skin color further weakens the message. More white people are killed by police than blacks and Hispanics combined, according to U.S. Bureau of Justice figures.

The Floyd case was far more compelling. Although leaked bodycam footage showed the story to be more complicated than previously told, almost everyone who saw video of officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes was disgusted and outraged.

Sunday’s Chicago case has no such victim, yet the reaction showed the dangers and dire real-life consequences that can result when new martyrs are created in this era of social media. Let’s hope that when his name is released, it will be quickly forgotten. This is not a name we want etched into the nation’s already painful history of injustice.



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