Pritzker activates National Guard for ‘limited mission’

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CHICAGO, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — In a Sunday afternoon news conference, Governor J.B. Pritzker activated 375 members of the Illinois National Guard in a limited role to provide assistance to the Chicago Police Department while the city goes on lock down amid protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed man who died in police custody.

Chicago police arrested hundreds of protesters after Chicago’s mayor instituted a 9 p.m. curfew on Saturday night.

Pritzker said, “for much of the day yesterday, the protests here in Chicago were beautiful, massive, and peaceful,” but by the early evening hours, demonstrations turned violent, with vandals targeting police vehicles and storefronts.

The governor warned anyone who took part in a public demonstration to get tested for COVID-19.

A copy of the Governor’s prepared remarks is posted below:

“Good afternoon.

“I’m here today with Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, and Illinois National Guard Adjutant General Richard Neely.

“Early this morning, Mayor Lightfoot requested deployment of the Illinois National Guard to assist the City of Chicago in its work to protect communities and keep people safe. As governor, it’s my job to respond when our municipalities ask for assistance, so I have activated 375 members of the Illinois National Guard to carry out a limited mission to assist local law enforcement with street closures. With regard to protesters who are exercising their First Amendment rights, the Guard has explicit direction not to interfere. They will operate under the most stringent parameters on use of force, and General Neely has made those parameters abundantly clear to members of the Guard.

“The City of Chicago, like so many other communities across Illinois and across the nation, is grieving – grieving for George Floyd, but also for Breonna Taylor, for Ahmaud Arbery, for Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice. For the countless others who have been killed for being Black in America.

“I also want to recognize that Illinois, as well as other parts of the nation, is coming off the peak of a pandemic that has disproportionately taken Black lives – a pandemic that has caused record unemployment, disproportionately in the Black community.

“These are enormous weights that nobody should have to carry. It’s not lost on me that the peaceful protestors who have been out over the last few days weighed the risks of the pandemic against coming out to speak their truth, and chose to gather anyway.

“To them, I want to say: I see you, I hear you, and I understand why you made the choice you made. I encourage anyone who took to the streets to make their voices heard to now isolate to avoid potentially infecting the people you love. I also encourage those who start exhibiting symptoms to take advantage of our free state testing services for COVID-19, available at dozens of sites throughout the City of Chicago.

“I also think it’s important to recognize that for much of the day yesterday, the protests here in Chicago were beautiful, massive, and peaceful. That is as much a part of the story of what’s happening in this city, in this country, as anything else. But late in the evening yesterday, the protest became about violence and damage, and that changes the conversation away from the terrible acts that took George Floyd’s life, away from the insidious racism that we all have a role in addressing.

“It’s hard to find the right words to say today. The truth is – words alone don’t cut it anymore. But it’s my job in moments of crisis to be a voice for all of Illinois – to bear witness to pain, and rage and anxiety and fear.

“I see the pain of this moment written on the faces of my black friends and colleagues and staff. I know that peacefully protesting is only one part of the expression of that pain. I know that they need to see action which includes real criminal justice and policing reform, as well as a sustained economic investment in black and brown communities. I know that they need to see complete and full justice for George Floyd and his family – something we have not seen yet. I know that one of my most sacred obligations as your governor is to take actions that build trust. And that takes time. I also have an obligation to this state and to the city of Chicago to keep people safe. Even as we are dealing with this destructive pandemic, we have never curtailed people’s right to peacefully express themselves. But the virus is still out there, and we cannot forget that. We have communities all around this state that are desperately trying to recover from the damage this virus has done, and I’m imploring people to not force a difficult second rebuilding on our small businesses in the course of expressing your very justified pain. I know things are broken. It doesn’t make us weaker to acknowledge that. I know people are suffering. It doesn’t diminish us to see that. Despair exists when things are broken and people are suffering – and then everyone refuses to acknowledge it. We cannot fix things we decide not to see. So let’s go forward today with our eyes wide open and our hearts committed to actions that back up our words.”

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(This story was originally published on May 31, 2020)

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