Rapper Vic Mensa joined Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle at a Thursday news conference focused on encouraging people to help repair small businesses that were looted or vandalized, but the singer and activist said that if people really want to clean up the community, “don’t wait until it burns down.”
The Chicago rapper said the “real looting” is the schools closed on the South and West Sides, while a new police academy is being planned and the black bodies “stolen by police officers in our city and across our nation.”
Mensa and Preckwinkle spoke at the East 47th Street headquarters of Mensa’s SaveMoneySaveLife Foundation, which promises to use art and entertainment “to foster sustainable change.”
Mensa called for an “end to police brutality,” saying that if officers charged in George Floyd killing in Minneapolis were bad apples, it’s time to “cut down the tree.”
Preckwinkle spoke of the neighborhoods and businesses that were ransacked over the past few days as some used peaceful protests following the Floyd’s death in Minneapolis by police as a cover to loot businesses.
Preckwinkle encouraged people to help “repair the devastation we’re facing” and acknowledged that many feel “frustrated, traumatized and exhausted” by the coronavirus pandemic, the high rates of unemployment and the toll of racism.
“Along with these protests we must return to rebuilding our communities that have been devastated by looting and destruction,” Preckwinkle said. “We must protect our family-owned, minority-owned businesses who are still cleaning up broken glass and decimated shelves.”
Preckwinkle said thousands of residents have already stepped up to help with neighborhood cleanup, and she encouraged everyone “to continue forward in the spirit of community.”
Mensa focused on what sparked the protests in the first place, not the looting that also occurred.
“The real looting is the looting of the body of George Floyd, the looting of the body of Laquan McDonald, the looting of the body of Rekia Boyd,” Mensa said, referring to two Chicagoans whose killings at the hands of police made headlines. Mensa also named Breonna Taylor, killed by police in Louisville earlier this year, and Ronald “Ronnie man” Johnson, killed in Chicago in 2014.
“What I will march for is an end to police brutality. What I will march for is defunding police. This is not a situation of bad apples … only so many bad apples, and you must have a rotten tree, at which point we need to cut the tree down and replant it.”
Mensa and Preckwinkle were joined by Cook County Commissioner Bill Lowry, Chicago Board of Elections Commissioner Jonathan Swain, who owns Kimbark Beverage Shoppe in Hyde Park, and other small business owners.
Swain said the business has been in his family since the 1970s. He said last week, a group of people in cars “broke our doors, ran our store and ransacked our business.”
Swain said he doesn’t condone burglary or looting but knows that the unrest seen in recent days was brought on by “generation upon generation of racial injustice and economic injustice.”
Those injustices also make it harder for black businesses to recover, Swain said.
“When it comes to rebuilding our businesses in our community, or our homes, our families do not have the wealth to rebuild and don’t have the wealth to provide collateral for bank loans,” Swain said. “So we are in a more desperate challenge. So what I would encourage folks to do as we move forward — let’s channel our energies in the right direction toward protests and civil disobedience, let’s make sure that we are investing in our businesses. Let’s keep the spotlight on the real cause of our frustration, not how we communicate it.”