Chicago police arrested more people for protesting than for looting in early days of unrest, contradicting original claims

Just 20% of arrests during the first few days of protests over the killing of George Floyd were for looting-related crimes, new data shows, refuting earlier statements by CPD that looting accounted for the majority of arrests that weekend.

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Photo by Max Herman

Demonstrators clash with police on Michigan Avenue after getting turned back from crossing the Chicago River on May 30, 2020, during a demonstration that drew thousands in Chicago as part of a national day of protest over the recent killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Atlanta, and Breonna Taylor in Louisville.

New data released by the Chicago Police Department from the weekend following the death of George Floyd shows that just 20% of arrests during the first few days of unrest were for looting-related crimes, contradicting earlier claims by CPD that looting made up the majority of arrests that weekend. 

Most of the 1,052 arrests were actually for protest-related charges. CPD provided the updated figures after the Reporter shared an analysis of arrest records that called CPD’s numbers into question. Mayor Lori Lightfoot and top brass have claimed that CPD appropriately addressed the violence that weekend.  

“Following this discrepancy, which appears to be the result of the Department relying on empirical data during the days of protests and civil unrest as well as an unintended category error, the Mayor’s Office is working with the Chicago Police Department to ensure they re-run all data during this period of time to ensure a more accurate representation of arrests throughout the city,” the mayor’s office said in a statement provided to The Chicago Reporter. 

Lens on Lightfoot

Controversy has continued to dog Chicago police over their response to the protests and looting that took place across the city beginning on May 29. The fallout has included leaked audio of a contentious phone call between Lightfoot and the City Council in which aldermen accused the administration of protecting the Loop at the expense of neighborhoods, video of officers lounging in Rep. Bobby Rush’s office while looters targeted nearby businesses, and repeated allegations of aggression against protesters and other misconduct by officers that weekend.

In the days following the unrest, the Chicago Police Department maintained that the majority of the arrests that weekend were for “criminal conduct tied to looting.” A report issued by CPD at the end of the week following the initial protests stated “1,258 individuals were arrested” during that weekend and, of those, “699 arrests were related to criminal conduct tied to looting and destruction of property.”

But according to updated numbers provided by the department Tuesday to the Reporter, only 213 of the 1,052 arrests were for looting-related incidents, about 70% less than the CPD’s initial figures.

“A number of civil unrest arrests were mistakenly categorized as looting arrests,” CPD said in a statement to The Chicago Reporter responding to our analysis of arrest records that called CPD’s original statements into question.

Officials told the Reporter that to arrive at these figures, CPD counted specific charges, as well as all arrests where the narratives included keywords such as “loot/looting.” But because police enacted a “mass arrest” action, allowing them to include many arrests under a single report and narrative, this approach could count a wide number of arrests as looting-related even when a person was not detained on looting charges.

The Reporter’s analysis corresponds with new CPD figures


A prior Reporter analysis of the 1,128 adult arrest records published by CPD on their data portal from Friday, May 29th to Sunday, May 31st shows that about 75% of all adult arrests included charges that could be considered related to what CPD calls “civil unrest.” The Reporter analysis does not include the arrest narratives used by CPD or arrests of minors.

Of all the civil unrest-related arrests, our analysis shows about 20% of those arrests had associated looting charges based on CPD’s definitions of these crimes. On the other hand, 80% of arrests were for protest-related charges such as disorderly conduct and failure to disperse. The Reporter does not have access to the arrest narratives, so our analysis includes crimes that could be considered looting in the context of a protest, but may also be everyday crimes like burglary. With the CPD’s updated numbers, their publicly available data now closely matches their stated figures. 

As of publication, the page to request access to the CPD data portal is inaccessible.

Questions about policing priorities


Numerous news outlets have tried to piece together the events of that weekend, painting a much more complicated scene than that of peaceful protests devolving into violence. 

Using multiple firsthand accounts of protesters on the ground, South Side Weekly captured officers clashing with protestors pinned against a raised bridge at the Chicago River near Trump Tower. According to reporting by the Chicago Sun-Times, Black people made up 75% of the arrests for violating curfew in the first five days it took effect.

“Look, what happened two weekends ago was like a wildfire that burned through our city,” Lightfoot said last week. “The scale of the criminal activity and the looting that happened, that was clearly organized by criminal gangs and crews, and then obviously there were people in neighborhoods who took advantage of the moment and added to the looting that took place, that was at such a scale and happening with such rapidity that it was difficult for us to respond.”

While one of the largest protests began peacefully downtown Saturday, May 30, the scene became violent as evening approached with reports of looting, vandalized police cars and clashes with officers. Later that night, Lighfoot announced a 9 p.m. curfew at a press conference, giving protesters little more than a half-hour to get home.

On Sunday, May 31, 375 Illinois National Guard soldiers were deployed to further enforce restrictions on the Loop. That, coupled with abrupt CTA closures, aldermen said, pushed the crowds into residential neighborhoods across the South and West sides, which they argued were ill-prepared.

“There were police there, there just wasn’t enough to deal with what was going on,” said West Side Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of Chicago City Council’s Black Caucus. “Part of the challenge with the message that was sent about downtown was that with the bridges up, the National Guard there, state county and CPD guarding, per se, downtown, that people thought that the neighborhood’s were up for grabs,” he said. 

“What potentially should have been, ‘Hey, the city is secure’ was perceived as downtown is secure and, therefore, the rest of the city is open for whatever happens.“

Lightfoot has called the criticism “not true and illogical.”

Most of the damage in Ervin’s ward occurred in the commercial business district between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Sunday, the alderman said. According to arrest records, no looting-related arrests were made at that time in his ward.

After surveying the damage that weekend, South Side Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. of the 21st Ward told the Chicago Sun-Times that 95% of businesses that sold merchandise in his ward were hit by looters including Jewel-Osco, Home Depot, Marshalls, Dollar Tree, Walgreens, TCF Bank and a Walmart that took Brookins nearly two terms to bring to his ward.

The feud between Black and Brown aldermen and the mayor over the response to looting was exposed last week with the leak of a testy phone call in the aftermath of the destruction. In her profanity-laced defense, Lightfoot said it took three hours to clear a crowd near Madison Street and Pulaski that “didn’t give a sh*t” after being gassed with “pepper spray” twice.

“If you think we’re not ready, and we stood by and let the neighborhoods go up, there’s nothing intelligent that I could say to you,” Lightfoot said on the call to Ald. Raymond Lopez, who harshly criticized the city’s response. “That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”

The data analysis only includes arrests where the arrestee was released from police lockup back onto the street or into the custody of the sheriff’s department for detention in one of their facilities such as Cook County Jail. The data does not include arrest records for minors. 

The “Lens On Lightfoot” project is a collaboration of seven Chicago newsrooms examining the first year of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration. Partners are the BGA, Block Club Chicago, Chalkbeat Chicago, The Chicago Reporter, The Daily Line, La Raza and The TRiiBE. It is managed by the Institute for Nonprofit News.