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Federal prosecutors have charged a Chicago man with “inciting a riot” over social media posts he made last August, encouraging Chicagoans to respond to a police-involved shooting by looting and vandalizing stores in the city’s Magnificent Mile shopping district.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports that 22-year-old James Massey “is charged with using a facility of interstate commerce to incite a riot in connection with looting downtown and on the Near North Side on Aug. 10. A hearing is underway.”
Massey is accused of sending out photos, videos, and messages about a police-involved shooting that took place on the city’s south side in early August. According to The Washington Post and Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown, “officers responded to a call about a man with a gun in the Englewood area; once spotting the man, they pursued him on foot. After the man shot at them, police said, the officers returned fire.”
Word of the shooting spread on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets, but with the incident cast as the killing of an unarmed black man similar to other incidents that nationwide outrage. The posts reportedly encouraged residents of Chicago’s south and west sides to go north, to the Magnificent Mile, and loot luxury retail stores in response to the shooting.
The ensuing riots left Chicago’s Mag Mile decimated and, months later, retailers still have not recovered. The city estimates that the looters did more than $66 million in damage, according to CBS Chicago.
Federal prosecutors say Massey sent out a post that called on residents of the “south side, east side, or west side” to head downtown and “bring ya tools.”
ATTENTION ATTENTION LOTTING START AT 12 am tonight … WE WILL NOT BE F——— UP THE SOUTH SIDE EAST SIDE OR WEST SIDE
DOWNTOWN AREA AND UP NORTH AREA ONLY BRING YA TOOLS SKI MASK AND GLOVES
The post, prosecutors told a Chicago federal judge, “was instrumental in instigating what was very destructive activity.”
The looting became a flashpoint for anti-racism and anti-police brutality protests, with many, including the local branch of the official “Black Lives Matter” movement, looking to tie the August riots and looting to a larger fight against injustice.
“I don’t care if someone decides to loot a Gucci or a Macy’s or a Nike store, because that makes sure that person eats,” one activist, affiliated with BLM Chicago said at the time, per NBC Chicago. “That makes sure that person has clothes.”
“That is reparations,” she continued. “Anything they wanted to take, they can take it because these businesses have insurance.”
The organization also claimed looters were “taking reparations from corporations.”
Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot disagreed, calling the actions, “criminal.”
“This was brazen and criminal looting and destruction,” she said. “This is not anywhere near acceptable.”
Chicago Police Superintendent Brown agreed.
“This was not an organized protest. This was an act of pure criminality,” he said.
The Chicago Tribune reported later that the looters and rioters were mostly “college students, out-of-work parents, and convicted felons” who took advantage of an out-of-control situation to help themselves to thousands of dollars in designer merchandise.