AURORA, Ill. — Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman was photographed hugging a protester Sunday night, embracing a member of her community who was hurting.
Later that night, Ziman says outside “opportunists” came to the southwest suburb to wreak havoc.
“They stole from our hard-working business owners who were slated to open today,” Ziman said Monday.
Multiple peaceful demonstrations took place in the city Sunday evening, but escalated as protesters moved closer to the downtown area.
A Family Dollar store broke out in flames around midnight in the 400 block of New York Street. Police stayed on scene for hours to protect firefighters so they could do their jobs and fight the blazes.
A squad car was set ablaze near Broadway and Galena Boulevard. Police say protesters set three squad cars on fire, and smashed the doors and windows. After shots were fired at officers, they used tear gas on the crowd.
Throughout the night, 17 people were arrested and 65 criminal damage reports were filed, which was more than expected.
“The protest was hijacked by others that turned into a destructive night of vandalism, looting and terror,” Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin said during a press conference Monday.
Irvin said while he understands the hurt and outrage over the killings of all the innocent black men and women in our country, he said he doesn’t understand how the protests were hijacked by others, leading to a violent night of “vandalism, looting and terror.”
“I do not condone this violence and destruction. At that point it was not a protest for the life of George Floyd, it became an opportunity for others to take advantage of the situation,” Irvin said.
Business owners recalled the fear and pain they felt night while they watched their businesses burn, their windows smashed, and their merchandise stolen.
“At 7 p.m. I just watched from my window, praying,” landlord Maria Valencia said.
And then as the sun rose Monday morning, people came out by the hundreds to clean up, helping fix battered businesses and bruised hearts.
“That’s all it took to put my heart back right exactly where it needed to be,” Ziman said.
Elias Akwo says despite it all, he’s proud to be part of this community.
Irvin said “Aurora is still standing” and will continue to stand strong together as a community.
The mayor said a state of emergency will continue for at least another day in Aurora. He also said the curfew will be extended, starting at 8:30 p.m. Monday until 6 a.m. Tuesday.
The entrances into Aurora from I-88 will remain closed. Residential or employment identification will be needed to enter the city.
Mayor Irvin had a message for looters and rioters with plans of returning to Aurora:
“Aurora will be ready for you, if you come to our community and attempt to cause destruction. We will not put up with this BS and foolishness. We will not put up with outsiders coming in and causing havoc. We will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law, and we already have for those who were identified last night,” Irvin said.