CHICAGO — All summer, demonstrators have marched through Chicago to protest police misconduct. In many neighborhoods, gun violence has been unrelenting, soaring to levels not seen in decades. The coronavirus pandemic is resurging, now sickening hundreds of people each day.
Then on Monday, hundreds of people, spurred by a police shooting and by calls on social media to take action in the gleaming heart of the city, converged overnight on the Magnificent Mile, Chicago’s most famous shopping district. They broke windows, looted stores and clashed with the police, a chaotic and confusing scene that prompted city officials to briefly raise bridges downtown and halt nearby public transit to stem the unrest. Two people were shot and at least 13 police officers were injured.
The events instantly played into the broader political dynamics of this season, in which President Trump has regularly portrayed Chicago as a poorly governed hotbed of violent crime. Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat, expressed fury over the violence and ordered limited access to downtown starting Monday evening.
But with a debate still fresh over federal agents sent to Portland, Ore., Ms. Lightfoot made it clear that she did not want military troops brought in, despite a call for help from the National Guard from at least one Republican leader in the Illinois House.
“No, we do not need federal troops in Chicago, period, full stop,” Ms. Lightfoot said. She drew a distinction between the unrest overnight and what she described as a “righteous uprising” after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May.
“We are waking up in shock this morning,” Ms. Lightfoot said at a news conference. “What occurred downtown and in surrounding communities was abject criminal behavior, pure and simple.”
More than 400 officers responded to the unrest downtown and arrested more than 100 people on charges of disorderly conduct, looting and battery against the police.
The events left Chicagoans shaken and wondering what had sparked the burst of vandalism that destroyed storefronts and littered sidewalks with debris on one of the most recognizable avenues in the city. Since spring, downtown Chicago has often had a quiet, eerie feel, without the hordes of tourists and commuters that usually fill the sidewalks, theaters, restaurants and bars. Office vacancies remain high because of fears over the coronavirus, and previous bouts of civil unrest earlier this summer have also kept crowds low.
“These last few months have been tremendously difficult for a lot of people,” the Rev. Corey Brooks, a pastor on Chicago’s South Side, said. “People are hurting financially, emotionally and psychologically. There’s a lot of suffering going on. What happened last night sets us back even more.”
The looting and shutdown came as many businesses were struggling to get back on their feet after coronavirus-related closures.
In the light of day, there were many questions over whether the violence had resulted because of differing versions of what had happened in the police shooting.
Superintendent David Brown of the Chicago Police Department, who was sworn into office in April, offered one explanation for what had happened.
He said that the chaos that had unfolded downtown overnight had grown out of a shooting that took place on the South Side on Sunday afternoon, when police officers and a man shot at one another in the city’s Englewood neighborhood.
Around 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, officers were called to investigate reports of a man with a gun, the department said. Officers confronted a 20-year-old man in an alley; he fled and then opened fire, the department said in a statement. “Officers then discharged their firearms, striking the offender,” the statement said.
The man, who was not identified, was expected to survive, and no officers were hurt. The department said it had opened an investigation into the shooting.
But after the shooting, neighbors confronted officers in Englewood in a tense standoff. A false rumor spread that the man who had been shot was actually 15 years old and unarmed. “Tempers flared, fueled by misinformation as the afternoon turned into evening,” Superintendent Brown said. “That grew and grew into the late-night hours.”
Then the police learned of a social media post about potential looting downtown, miles from where the shooting had taken place. Hundreds of officers were sent to Michigan Avenue and the surrounding area, where they encountered people entering upscale shops, vandalizing storefronts and smashing windows.
They also clashed physically with police.
In one widely viewed recording, police officers could be seen confronting a group of people in the street when someone hurled an object at one of the officers, striking him in the face. He and other officers then charged the people, who fled.
Officials said that 13 officers were injured, including one who was struck with a bottle and another whose nose was broken. A security guard and a civilian were shot, and both were taken to a hospital in critical condition.
A special team of investigators was looking through surveillance video to try to arrest more people who had taken part in the looting.
Kim Foxx, the county’s top prosecutor, responded to criticism that her office had dropped felony charges at a higher rate than her predecessor, and promised that people who broke the law would be held to account.
“Last night was a blatant display of criminal behavior,” Ms. Foxx said. “It is not the people for whom we’ve chosen not to use our resources to prosecute.”
Alderman Raymond Lopez, whose ward is on the South Side, said he saw no connection between anger over police shootings and the widespread looting downtown.
“There is no social justice component to the criminal activity that we saw last night,” Mr. Lopez said. “This is simply about criminal actions by individuals who are hellbent to cause anarchy and chaos in the city of Chicago.”
At least one organization promised that it had planned a demonstration in Chicago on Monday evening, in part to protest the police shooting in Englewood on Sunday.
Aislinn Pulley, a founder of Black Lives Matter Chicago, condemned the shooting and pushed Ms. Lightfoot to allow more civilian control of the police department. “We will remain in the streets until our demands are met,” she said in a statement.
Bus and train service that had been briefly shut down resumed later on Monday morning, and the city lowered the bridges over the Chicago River. The city has raised the bridges several times this summer, in an effort to limit access to the city’s main business and shopping district during protests against racism and police violence.
Business owners began to pick through the damage: cash registers overturned in a pharmacy, windows broken at high-end stores, empty boxes scattered outside a jewelry store.
City officials imposed new restrictions on the downtown area that would go into effect on Monday evening, keeping access mostly limited to residents, employees and people with essential business in the area.
Julie Bosman reported from Chicago, Christine Hauser from New York, and Johnny Diaz from Miami.