During a peaceful protest at the Aurora Police Department yesterday afternoon, a large group gathered in unison calling for police accountability after the death of George Floyd. But that changed after the crowd marched towards the city’s downtown area.
Objects were hurled at police officers, squad cars were burned down, and others sustained gunfire, according to police. Aurora’s Mayor, Richard Irvin, believes the actions were the result of an outside influence.
“And the protest was hijacked by others and turned into a destructive night of vandalism, looting, and terror. What I don’t understand is how the number grew significantly with people outside of Aurora using strategic methods to stir discord and encourage mass confusion and crime,” said Irvin.
Small Businesses Targeted
The night brought out looters who broke into small businesses, some of which were scheduled to reopen today as part of Phase 3 in the Restore Illinois plan.
When asked what’s next, one affected business owner replied, “I can’t say right now. Honestly I don’t know.”
Some community members stood strong and tried to protect businesses, while others took to the streets and started cleaning some of the mess left behind.
“Why are you sweeping?” This is my business. This is Aurora [and] I work here. These people help me take care of my family; I don’t want to see it like this. This is ridiculous,” said Bruce, owner of Chicago Style Barber.
Police Take Action
Looters were able to start a fire inside and near First Midwest Bank, and attempted to get inside an ATM outside it.
Police officers mobilized by putting on gas masks and heading towards the bank. They used tear gas to back up the crowd and were able to control the blaze near and inside the building.
I along with my colleague Ryan Skyrd were there last night covering the story, but left after tear gas and objects were thrown at us.
“There’s a sensationalized [feeling] of burning happening around my eyes. There’s rocks being thrown at me, I’m getting down,” said Naperville News 17’s Christian Canizal.
In total, 17 people were arrested on several charges including burglary damage. Some rioters and a police officer sustained minor injuries.
Fire fighter crews were able to save First Midwest Bank from burning, but the looting that occurred made a huge financial impact to the downtown businesses.
“We talked about the damage with all the fire damage, and the damage to the property and we’re up close to about $3 million in damages to the City of Aurora,” said Mayor Irvin.
Clean Up Efforts
But what the looters couldn’t do is take away the spirit of the Aurora community.
The following morning, hundreds woke up at the crack of dawn to help clean up. With brooms in hand some swept away glass shards, others helped by boarding up shattered windows, some offered food and water to their fellow neighbors, and one community member handed out wristbands that read “Aurora Strong”.
Old, young, black, brown, white, tall, and small were all there for one reason.
“I’m happy to help the city. I just want to be a good citizen,” said James Howard.
“We live really near here, so we heard a lot of the commotion last night and it was really upsetting,” said Erin, Jordan’s Mother. And it’s really upsetting that an area that we know struggles and we’ve lived here for a longtime and we’re just starting to see it become more stable and the to have this happen to all these independent small businesses it’s really devastating.”
Within a few of hours graffiti that had covered walls the night before was washed off, and most of the businesses that had their windows shattered were barricaded thanks to large part to community members.
It was a proud moment for Mayor Irvin.
“It just warms my heart and I can’t thank them enough for being a part of our community and being Aurora Strong, and letting those bad actors that came and tried to perpetrate so much destruction on us that they won’t prevail,” said Irvin.
The mayor said he’s working with affected businesses to come up with a plan so the city can support them during these tough times.
Though the riots were unfortunate, it brought out Aurora’s community members the next day and showed what it means to be Aurora Strong.
Naperville News 17’s Christian Canizal and Ryan Skryd report.
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