What Happened in Chicago and What May Be Next, Explained

Hundreds of vandals looted Chicago businesses Sunday night and into Monday morning. The images of shattered storefronts in and around the city’s Loop look more like a war zone than an American city.

John Tillman, chairman and CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute, joins the podcast to offer insight into how the streets of Chicago so quickly fell into chaos, and what must be done to prevent further violence and looting.

Tillman also explains how Illinois’ economy may be affected by the city’s surge in criminal activity and spike in murders this year.

We also cover these stories:

  • The police chief of Seattle resigns after the City Council votes to cut the department’s budget by almost $4 million.
  • The Chicago man accused of firing shots at police officers Sunday afternoon is now charged with two counts of attempted murder and unlawful use of a weapon.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin announces that his nation has approved the first COVID-19 vaccine.

Virginia Allen: I am joined by John Tillman, chairman and CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute. Mr. Tillman, thank you so much for being here.

John Tillman: Great to be with you, Virginia.

Allen: Now, I do wish we were chatting under happier circumstances, but unfortunately, we’re talking about what happened in Chicago, the recent violence there, and it really is kind of a discouraging situation.

On Sunday, the Chicago police received a call about a young man with a gun. When the police began to approach the man, he took off running and he fired shots at the officers. The police returned fire and struck the man and he was taken to the hospital, but is reported to be in stable condition.

Now, this one incident of the police simply defending themselves spurred what many in Chicago are calling a coordinated attack on the city. Can you just describe what happened on Sunday night and into Monday morning in Chicago?

Tillman: Well, bad actors who took that incident and used it as a catalyst to organize, using social media, people to literally form caravans, come into the Magnificent Mile area of the North Loop and all throughout the Loop and the North Side.

They formed caravans, they brought U-Haul rental trucks, and they began to repeat the looting and the rioting that went on after the death of George Floyd that we saw back at the end of June and into July, and that continued into the wee hours of the morning.

The police were overwhelmed. The city did what it’s now done many times, which has raised the bridges, cut off the on-ramps and off-ramps to try to prevent the traffic from coming into the central business district.

But nevertheless, the damage was done, and we had another incident of massive rioting up and down Michigan Avenue, which is obviously very unfortunate for people who are struggling to try to restart their business, not just from the previous riots, but obviously from the coronavirus problems.

It’s just an ongoing example of people who have hijacked what is a reasonable discussion about civil rights and the racial situation in the country and turning it into and exploiting it as an opportunity to create mayhem.

Allen: Now, the mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, she’s a Democrat, but she was very, very clear that this violence, this looting was completely unacceptable. During a press conference, she actually said, “This was straight up felony, criminal conduct.” That’s an exact quote.

But the mayor has also received some criticism just for not doing more to kind of prevent this looting and this violence from taking place in the first place.

How do you think that Lightfoot has handled the situation and is kind of moving to prevent this from happening again?

Tillman: Well, I think the mayor’s comments following what happened on Sunday evening at her press conference on Monday morning were quite strong and positive in terms of being the kind of response we would expect from a mayor who has been watching this carnage unfold. The problem is that she should have had this kind of response from the very beginning.

Unfortunately, when the violence first started, when peaceful protests were transformed by politically motivated agitators into violent protests three, four, five weeks ago, she was way too hands off, way too forgiving of it, and did not put the hammer down in terms of her rhetoric then.

All of that has given those who are not really focused on justice, but rather focused on exploitation of an opportunity, [it] has emboldened them, and they feel absolutely immune to any kind of accountability.

That, combined with the fact that the state’s attorney in Cook County, Kim Foxx, has been letting people who’ve previously been arrested out much too easily. People have been arrested and released very quickly. So there’s a feeling of immunity, if you will, by the rioters who’ve taken advantage of what had been some peaceful protests in the past.

So yes, it’s good the mayor said what she said. She should have been saying this from the beginning, and now she’s got a much bigger problem to overcome.

Allen: So, Chicago’s 9th Ward alderman, Anthony Beale, he joined Fox News, “Fox and Friends,” early Tuesday, and he said that the city of Chicago is “up for grabs.”

In my mind, essentially what he was saying when he said that is there are two options facing the city of Chicago right now: They can kind of continue to be pretty weak on crime and allow the city to sort of be turned over to these looters and violent criminals, or they can really crack down. Are you optimistic about Chicago’s future?

Tillman: I remain very optimistic about not only Chicago’s future, but Illinois’ future and the country’s future, but that does not mean we are not going to go through a very, very difficult period, which I think we certainly are because the problem we face today is you have not just this recent period that we’re all living through nationally, but in Chicago, we have this repudiation of policing in general, a repudiation of the idea that the police are there to protect the innocent.

… Homicides in Chicago in the month of July were up about 139% over July of last year. Overall for the year, we’re up 50% in terms of homicides, and the people that are being most harmed by this, of course, are people primarily in the African American community.

This is where all, obviously, some of the violence has come up into the business district and central business district, but the majority of the deaths are taking place in the communities most vulnerable, which are the African American communities.

We’ve had children dying from random gunshots or badly aimed gunshots. What is happening in the city is a crisis, and the crisis is field by the repudiation of the police.

So now the police feel that they have no backing from the administration. They are, generally speaking, taking a hands-off attitude, which has perpetuated this problem, and it is not going to be an easy problem to fix.

We had an employee from our staff who was accosted by, on July 4th during the middle of the afternoon, a couple of hundred people accosted their car, a pitchfork through the back of the window when they’re just passing through the Loop.

These are the kinds of things that caused a city to go into rapid decline. It is very terrifying. The only way that’s going to get remedied is if this administration stops politicizing all of this and focuses on protecting the innocent and cracking down on those who are doing the violence.

Allen: The Chicago Police Department, they’ve reported that there have already been 450 murders in and around Chicago just this year. By this time last year, that number was only 291, and the year before that, it was 329. So Chicago has seen a 55% spike in murders so far this year. Do you attribute this rise specifically to kind of an anti-police rhetoric?

Tillman: I think it’s more than one thing. I think, obviously, the George Floyd killing was a spark that created some of the, again, what we’ve in the past were called peaceful protest, but that period seems to be over now, and what has happened is that people who have bad intent have hijacked all of that.

… The people in the city who are bad actors have taken this as a green light to go act badly and do the kind of things we saw on Sunday night, and they’re just on a rampage because they feel no accountability.

The police, meanwhile, are overwhelmed by the numbers and they feel overwhelmed by the fact that they’re not supported largely, and unfortunately, by many of the people in the community that at least are getting publicity who are very anti-police.

Now, there’s always a balancing act between the police providing order and protection for the most of the citizens, at the same time, as we try to balance out the issues of the police abusing their power. That is the delicate balance we’re all fighting for all over this country.

We want civil liberties to be protected, and that means civil liberties for the people who are accused, but also means civil liberties for the innocents who are just trying to live their life out in their communities.

What has happened today is that balance is completely out of whack now where the police no longer feel empowered to try to preserve order, and they don’t feel protected by their administration. Frankly, they don’t feel protected by many people in their own community who have turned on them.

This is a recipe for disaster and we’re watching it unfold, not just in Chicago. This is going on all over the country. Chicago just, as is so often the case, seems to be leading the country in bad things rather than the good things that we should be doing.

Allen: Yeah, well, and unfortunately, Chicago even before kind of the recent violence and spikes in murders has been reporting just very high crime rates. Chicago’s violent crime rate is higher than the U.S. national average.

Tillman: Correct.

Allen: Why do you think that is?

Tillman: There’s been a breach of trust between the police department and the mayor’s office for a long time, it goes back to the Laquan McDonald killing from a few years ago, which made national news and ended up in the conviction of the police officer who did it. But nevertheless, that has sparked a real breach of trust between the community, the police, and the mayor’s office.

Of course, we now have a new mayor, Mayor Lightfoot, as you referred to, but even prior to that, when Rahm Emanuel was mayor, there was this breach, if you will.

So the police feels somewhat on an island. They’re between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they don’t have the confidence of the mayor’s office, they don’t have the confidence of the community, and so they feel adrift, is my interpretation of it from promise they’ve made and from the behavior we see.

So if you’re a police officer and you’re trying to serve the community by protecting the innocent, but you feel every time … For the example you cited at the top of this discussion, these officers are chasing a guy who’s, according to the police, multiple witnesses, pointing a gun at them and they fire back. They’re terrified of making those kinds of decisions.

Then an incident like that is taken, it is distorted. The story that was going through social media is that this was an unarmed 15-year-old boy. It was not. It was an armed 15-year-old who’s had multiple arrests in the past. So those stories are put into the community.

… If it was true that the police had shot an unarmed 15-year-old, that would be, obviously, something worthy of reacting to, not with violence, but certainly being unhappy about it. Well, that’s not at all what happened.

So all of these incidents now are being blown out of proportion, used for political advantage.

The Chicago version of Black Lives Matter has said that this is not going to stop until they find justice. Well, I think they had a sign up that said, “We’ve been looted so now it’s time for us to loot back.”

That is [a] very difficult way to find peaceful harmony between all people in the city of Chicago, which is, obviously, what I think most people want. I think it’s a very small number of people that are doing the agitation, but when they’re not held to account, they have outsized influence and impact.

Allen: I want to discuss just the economic impact for a moment. You all at the Illinois Policy Institute have been following the effect specifically of COVID-19 on Illinois’ economy and the state has been hit pretty hard.

Are you concerned that the looting, which no doubt costs and will cost the city thousands, if not millions of dollars, is really going to have a long-term negative impact on the state’s economy?

Tillman: Yeah. I think it is going to have a long-term negative impact. The work that’s going to have to be done to rebuild confidence for people to invest in the central business district and the neighborhood, that’s the city, focus neighborhoods of the city of Chicago are going to be very challenging.

The irony of it is if you go outside of this city, the economy is largely recovering and doing much better. But obviously, when people are living in fear as to whether or not you’re going to be safe in what had been very safe neighborhoods and to say nothing of what is going on in the carnage in some of the neighborhoods [that] already were too violent, people are going to be very hesitant to reinvest and re-engage in those communities. I think it is going to have a long-term effect.

That is why the governor and the mayor, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, Kim Foxx—the state’s attorney—they are all responsible and accountable for how they respond to this.

The No. 1 thing they have to do is restore order and peace, and the only way to do that is to take on those people who are challenging civil society and that is these rioters who are coming in in an organized way and repeatedly looting and vandalizing the city and terrorizing its citizens. That has to stop.

Allen: So tell me a little bit about the work that you all are doing. What are the particular areas the Illinois Policy Institute plans to focus on in the coming months? Are you all doing anything related to small businesses, families, civil society? Just tell me a little bit about your work and how you’re kind of going to come alongside Illinois to strengthen the economy and society as a whole.

Tillman: The No. 1 problem facing Illinois long before everything that’s happening in 2020 has been that our spending is out of control.

We’ve … not had a balanced budget since the year 2001, even though we theoretically have a balanced budget requirement in our constitution, but it’s loosely written so that borrowing can be used to close a bunch of gap, which of course is insanity.

Unfortunately, we have a failure of leadership at the political level, both Democrats and Republicans, but primarily Democrats because they’ve been in charge of the state for most of this period of time, with a couple of exceptions.

The problem is we have out-of-control spending that is driven by public employee compensation, primarily wages, benefits, but especially pensions.

Spending on pension since the year 2000 is up 501%, and now consumes 27% of the total budget. Spending on services to the poor is actually down 32% in inflation adjusted dollars.

So the political class has made its choice very clear. We have the highest paid government workers in the country. We have one of the richest pension systems in the country, and it’s a Ponzi scheme. It’s running out of money because there’s no way to sustain what they’ve done.

The average government worker who gets a pension after a 30-year career gets everything they put in back in the first two years and everything thereafter comes from the taxpayers or theoretical investment returns. So this is unsustainable.

That is what has been driving the fiscal nightmare, and as a result of that, we have the highest overall tax burden in the country, the highest property taxes in the country.

What is before us now in terms of what we’re focusing on, we’re continuing to focus our work on educating the people of Illinois of everything I just said, and that we cannot allow the governor to win on his progressive tax proposal.

The one redeeming feature we have is a constitutional provision that requires a flat income tax. The governor wants to overturn that and allow for a graduated or progressive income tax.

He, of course, has promised he will only tax the wealthy initially, defined as people making $250,000 or more. But as we all know, every time this happens, they eventually work that down and they ensnare middle-class taxpayers in that progressivity and will raise taxes on everyone. They have to do that because they don’t have enough money with the upper-income people being taxed at a higher rate.

So our No. 1 job is to educate people on the progressive tax and defeat the progressive tax, because if they do get the progressive tax, that will just further perpetuate the exodus of Illinois’ citizens to other states. And that is actually our No. 1 problem right now is people are leaving at record rates. We are literally depopulating right before your eyes year by year.

Allen: Was that going on kind of before this year? Has that been a trend over the past several years that you’ve seen of people kind of leaving the state of Illinois en masse?

Tillman: Yes. We have lost population on a net basis for five straight years. We lead the country in the rate of out-migration, and that is very difficult to actually have a negative number in population growth because even if you have domestic out-migration on that inbound of foreign immigration usually offsets that so you still grow.

Five years ago that flipped. Even the immigrants don’t want to come to Illinois because they have better bets elsewhere. So we’re actually declining in population in real terms, that’s happened five years in a row. It’s very difficult to do it. I forgot the aggregate, the numbers, … I think it’s about as much as 184,000 people on that.

… I went to school in Detroit, grew up in Michigan, and I remind people that when you start to erode your tax base, that is when you get into the death spiral, and that is … exactly what is happening.

Of course, everything that is now going on in Chicago and nationally is accelerating all of those problems.

… People always say, “Well, it’s just the wealthy leaving.” No, middle class people are leaving. African Americans are leaving. In the census from 2000 to 2010, over 200,000 middle-class African Americans left the city of Chicago. We don’t have, obviously, the numbers for 2010 to 2020, but I think we’re going to see another version of that.

The city is hollowing itself out, except for the primaries like Lincoln Park, Lake View, and of course the central business district. Now, all that’s going on now, we’ll see how that affects that dynamic.

The irony is we’re kind of a barbell city. We have pretty good services for the poor overall, despite many challenges, and people who are affluent and do pretty well, but the middle is hollowing out.

Allen: Mr. Tillman, we are really thankful for the work that you all do at the Illinois Policy Institute. I’m glad that you are optimistic for the future of your city and hopeful that you all will be able to watch things turn around, and hopefully sooner rather than later.

Tillman: We have a battle ahead. But in the end, I believe that people will recognize that they have to choose the ideas we believe in, which is free people, free enterprise, and really focusing on opportunity more than dependency.

Allen: Absolutely. Thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.

Tillman: Thank you.

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