Local officials remain on alert following two tense days that saw the unrest sparked by the death of a Minneapolis man at the hands of police there on May 25 spread nationwide, including to Chicago and its suburbs.
Shortly after 2 p.m. on May 31, that unrest exploded in North Riverside, with hundreds of people descending within minutes at the shopping centers near Harlem Avenue and Cermak Road.
Wielding baseball bats, crow bars and hammers, they smashed their way into two entrances at North Riverside Park Mall, 7501 Cermak Road, and then broke into more than a half dozen stores, grabbing merchandise from jewelry stores, shoe stores and others businesses before running back to their cars in the parking lot.
As police arrived in riot gear to clear the shopping center and chase looters from the property, about 10 gunshots rang out near the northeast exit to the mall, outside of Olive Garden.
Myqwon Blanchard, a 22-year-old Chicago man, died at the scene after someone shot him multiple times at point-blank range, execution style.
Surveillance video from a camera at Olive Garden, released late on June 1 by North Riverside police, shows Blanchard running west toward Olive Garden, where he trips over the curb and falls to the pavement.
A man wearing a mask, a gray hooded sweatshirt and black sweatpants runs up to the prone Blanchard and fires shots at him from just a foot or two away before running back and getting into the passenger side door of a silver vehicle, which drives off south on the outer access road.
WESTAF homicide detectives and North Riverside police are investigating the shooting, which does not appear to have involved police.
Anyone who can identify the offender is being asked to call the North Riverside tip hotline at 708-762-5410.
Blanchard’s death was one of 15 homicides reported in Cook County on May 31. That was the most, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, since at least 2003, when 10 were reported in one day.
Word late Tuesday morning was that North Riverside would again be imposing a 3 p.m. curfew as reports of violence in Cicero and demonstration elsewhere in the suburbs began percolating. Cermak Road and 26th Street between Desplaines Avenue and Harlem Avenue also were expected again on June 2.
Harvey Ahitow, general manager of North Riverside Park Mall, said the damage to the mall entrances and in common areas was minor and that the damage to tenant spaces was contained principally to the upper level wing between the food court and Sears.
“Our security group did about everything they could have done,” Ahitow said. “They were clearly outnumbered, and by the time they got backup, they were running through the mall. It could have been way worse if police had not reacted as quickly as they did.”
Looters breached the doors of the food court and Entrance 2, which is just south of Sears. Ahitow said about six to eight stores were targeted by looters.
“They knew where they were going,” Ahitow said. “I understand people’s frustration, but for the most part, these were people taking advantage of a situation.”
By Sunday evening and into the morning of June 2, the entrances to North Riverside Park Mall were barricaded with large vehicles and Jersey barriers as police braced for a second day of violence on June 1, which ended up not materializing in this area.
But North Riverside Park Mall was not the only local shopping center targeted by looters on May 31. Perpetrators smashed their way into Binny’s Beverage Depot and CVS on the north side of Cermak Road west of Harlem Avenue and also looted Kohl’s and Best Buy in the North Riverside Plaza shopping center at the southwest corner of Harlem and Cermak.
In the North Riverside Park Plaza along 25th Street, businesses looted included E-Z Pawn, Sally Beauty Supply, Diamond Factory jewelers, City Sports and K-Stone Beauty.
Damage and looting east of Harlem Avenue in Berwyn was limited in scope due in part to a massive police presence there and the fact that the city of Berwyn moved to barricade Cermak Plaza entrances with large vehicles before the main wave of looters arrived on May 31.
While Riverside and Brookfield didn’t experience any damage or looting, Riverside police moved to barricade Longcommon and Berkeley roads at Harlem Avenue after people fleeing the shopping centers to the north started running through yards in the area and motorists, impatient with traffic jams caused by street closures in Berwyn, sought ways out of the area.
Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said he, along with Brookfield Police Chief Edward Petrak and North Riverside Police Chief Carlos Garcia, activated its no-boundaries policing agreement for the first time in response to the unrest.
The agreement inked by all three villages in the past month, allows officers from any of these towns to fully handle incidents in all three towns, if called upon to do so.
Weitzel said Forest View police on May 31were reporting caravans of vehicles exiting the Stevenson Expressway and heading north on Harlem Avenue in what appeared to be a somewhat organized manner.
“My opinion was that it was absolutely organized, because it went up in two minutes,” Weitzel said. “It was easily hundreds of people. Even when it was winding down, you had cars following each other.”
Both North Riverside and Berwyn imposed curfews Sunday night and police barricaded streets and alleys in Berwyn near Harlem and Cermak. While North Riverside had been evacuating shopping centers in the area after an aborted apparent looting incident at the mall at about 1 p.m., Riverside and Brookfield officials began advising restaurants to close their outdoor dining spaces early.
While Brookfield and Riverside did not impose curfews on either May 31 or June 1, they advised businesses of the situation nearby and urged people to stay home.
Many businesses reopened in the Harlem-Cermak area on the morning of June 1, but at around 1 p.m., local police again began to receive reports of large gatherings of people north and east of the area.
By mid-afternoon on June 1, both Berwyn and North Riverside police had ordered businesses to close in the Harlem-Cermak area and closed both eastbound and westbound traffic on Cermak Road and 26th Street at Harlem Avenue.
Berwyn, meanwhile, also restricted traffic along Cermak Road to Oak Park Avenue and into the city from Roosevelt Road, setting up what amounted to a cordon around the city.
North Riverside, fearing a repeat of May 31, imposed a curfew at 3 p.m. on Monday afternoon, while Berwyn did the same at 6 p.m.
There were many reports of violence along Cicero Avenue between Roosevelt Road and Cermak Road – at least two people were reported shot and killed in that part of Cicero and more than 60 people were arrested – the violence never reached North Riverside on June 1.
“I think closing off the streets really helped, along with the high police presence,” said North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. “I believe the strategy worked as far as closing down the main thoroughfares to get to our village.”
But, Hermanek said police would remain on alert in the days to come. Weitzel on Tuesday morning said his entire department was working around the clock at this time.
“We’re going to play it one day at a time,” Hermanek said.