CHICAGO—Cliff Edgeson found shattered glass and empty shelves at his local Walmart on the morning of June 1. He lives in Bronzeville, a neighborhood that Chicago has designated as a food desert because it lacks affordable, nutritious food.
“It’s hard to get groceries. Now it’s going to be even harder,” Edgeson, 62, told The Epoch Times. “It’s tearing up our own community.”
Edgeson called 911 the night of May 31. He had spotted the looters, many of whom were black teens, he said. But no police came to stop them.
His calls were among more than 10,000 calls to 911 about looting over the weekend.
Looting had spread so fast, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a June 1 press conference, that the police couldn’t have stopped it even if the force were four times bigger than it is. Citywide, police arrested 699 people; nearly two-thirds of them were looters.
“It’s crazy, messed-up, and ridiculous,” Edgeson said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Sandra McDowell, another neighborhood resident, says she understands the frustration over the death of George Floyd. But while the death of a black man dying as a white officer knelt on his neck has sparked nationwide protests and social unrest, she opposes violent acts.
“They used a man’s death to destroy things that take many years to build,” McDowell said. “It’s frustration in a wrong way.”
Many small businesses in Bronzeville were damaged, including many that were already struggling because of COVID-19-related closures.
Fadi, who declined to give his surname, lost 90 percent of the merchandise in the beauty salon he started three years ago; he’s not sure if the insurance company will cover the losses.
“It’s sad. It’s miserable,” he told The Epoch Times.
Damaging the ‘Black Metropolis’ Revival
The damage has occurred as Bronzeville, historically a black cultural and economic center for Chicago, was experiencing a revival. Once dubbed the “Black Metropolis,” it was home to the first black-owned bank and the first black YMCA in the nation, when segregation still excluded black people from other YMCAs.
It fell into decline steadily in the latter half of the 20th century. Now, nearly half of Bronzeville residents earn less than $20,000 a year.
But in recent years, new retail shops and homes have popped up. A $46 million project established a local retail and apartment complex that was hailed as a model for community-led redevelopment.
Marcus Witt, a lifelong resident of Bronzeville, rode the rising tide and opened a beauty salon four years ago. On the night of the looting, he stayed at his salon and kept a pistol handy to protect his livelihood.
No looters came to his salon. But he was devastated to see the damages to other small businesses, including a neighboring phone store that lost all its phones, he said.
“George Floyd wouldn’t want this,” Witt said.
Witt supports peaceful protests, like those led by Martin Luther King Jr. He was 6 years old when King came to Chicago.
“They were peaceful marches. Everything was peaceful,” he said.
“You can accomplish nothing with violence.”
Picking Up the Broken Pieces
The morning of June 1, freelance photographer Jason Taylor drove around Bronzeville and cleaned up broken glass.
“This is where our children play,” Taylor told The Epoch Times. “I cannot wait for the city to clean up.”
Taylor is single and has no children, but he sees Bronzeville as his house, and its neighborhood kids as his children, he said.
Having spent most of his life in Bronzeville, Taylor finds his own black community divided. On one side, you have organizations like Black Life Matters that focus on systematic injustice, he said, while you also have those who want to build up the individuals in the community through education and knowledge.
He favors the latter approach. He spends time with neighborhood kids on a regular basis, many of whom lack a father figure.
“I don’t have any kids but I raise a lot of kids,” he said.
“You have to take it upon yourself to build up your community,” Taylor said. “When everybody starts to do that, that is the best organization.”
His message for the young looters is: “Don’t listen to social media. Don’t listen to the internet. Think. Really think about what you’re doing.”