More than 700 Naperville and surrounding area residents were quick to respond to the mess left over from last night’s riots.
“It’s just heartbreaking, but I’m so happy that there are more people helping than were hurting last night,” said Pam Bartlett, owner of Pinot’s Palette, who says most of the cleanup was already done by 6:30 a.m.
Shattered glass and stolen merchandise is what many downtown business owners found when they arrived at their stores.
“This is our blood, sweat and tears, what we worked years and years to establish,” said Lisa Benjamin. “For someone to come into our store and take random merchandise, destroy our displays; there’s no rhyme or reason for it.”
“They are our neighbors, they’re family,” said Christine Jeffries, Naperville Development Partnership President. “Those are the people putting their lives on the line for COVID-19 and now they’re having to suffer job loss because their stores have been ransacked.”
“It’s so heartwarming,” said Terri Hayes, owner of Artistic Creations Salon. Fortunately her business was not one to be looted, as she and her team emptied all valuables ahead of time. “One of the reasons I love being down here, as an independent business owner is this community has our back.”
“I live here. I teach here and I’m really happy to see everyone coming together to clean up wherever,” said a volunteer named Victor who works at The Lantern, which was boarded up.
Peaceful Protest Turned Violent
It all started yesterday with a peaceful protest in the afternoon with about 300 people – many local students.
But that peace quickly escalated into rioting around 9:30 p.m., after a swat officer enforced the curfew.
Instigators moved in on the protesters, some throwing water bottles at officers, others setting off explosives, injuring one officer. One protester stabbed another. That victim is in the hospital and the incident remains under investigation.
As the group separated, individuals roamed the downtown streets, smashing windows and stealing merchandise from what businesses they could, as some were already boarded up or removed of merchandise in anticipation.
“We had no fires and we no deaths so [the police] did their job, [but] sickening to watch,” said Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico.
“When I’m watching the live feeds, NCTV17, Twitter, and seeing all of this destruction, at the same time I’m getting texts, ‘How can I help?’ ‘What do businesses need?’ ‘What can I do tomorrow?’” said Kaylin Risvold, Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO.
A Step Towards Healing
Among the cleanup were some of yesterday’s peaceful protesters, including an organizer. They hope they and others like them don’t get mistaken for those who were seeking to loot and destroy and that their messages of justice and equality for all don’t get swept under the rug.
“We want people to know that it was peaceful to begin with,” said Noelle Smagala. “The protest is not the cause of this.”
“It’s nice to see that there’s a lot of people out helping,” said Elijah Trannon. “But it also shows how people care a lot more about property than justice. People want peace but we got to meet halfway.
Many see today’s work as just the start of the healing process for both the downtown business district and a community demanding their voices be heard.
“We’re looking forward to a bright day where we can all come together again,” said Katie Wood, Executive Director of the Downtown Naperville Alliance.
“Being a black man in America there was one point in my life where I feel like people who weren’t of color like they didn’t care and seeing everyone out here today, I was wrong,” said D’Marcus Goode. “I’m so happy and ecstatic to be wrong.”
“I never want to condone any violence or destruction but I want to be part of the rebuilding,” said Karia Thomas. “These are beautiful communities (Aurora and Naperville) and I found a home and a family in these communities and I don’t like seeing them destroyed,” she said in response to both the Aurora and Naperville riots.
“We want to get that message out there so folks can have an empathetic ear, as far as what’s happen to their brown brothers and sisters in are community, not just in our community but all over,” said Naperville City Councilman Benny White. “It’s a learning experience, an educational thing as far as understanding those types of things. Pick up books, listen to podcasts so you can have that empathetic ear. It’s all people are looking for.”
City Leadership Response
Mayor Chirico, along with the Naperville Police Department had a press conference shortly after today’s cleanup. In response not only to the death of George Floyd and the unrest in the week since that has followed, but to other recent incidents of racism in the local community, the mayor announced Naperville has been forming a Human Rights Commission in cooperation with the Justice Department over the last few months. The city has also engaged with a diverse set of groups to hold difficult but necessary conversations about race and equality.