June 1 and Beyond: Confronting Racism in Cicero

A timeline documenting racial violence and initial steps towards repair

Background photo by April Alonso

Content Warning: Discussion, images, and videos of police violence

The events that happened in Cicero on June 1 will forever be seared in the memories of those who witnessed them. The civil unrest that transpired closely mirrored events from decades before on many of the same streets.

After massive protests in response to the police killing of George Floyd prompted Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to close access to downtown, much of the unrest, which included people breaking into stores and damaging property, spread to Cicero.

What ensued was chaos. Helicopters flew overhead as armored vehicles blocked major streets. The Illinois State police and the Cook County Sheriff’s office were called in. On nearly every street corner dozens of non-Black Latinx people, many of them armed with bats, clubs, rocks, and other weapons, decided it was their duty to protect local property. Some of these groups targeted Black people who were assumed to be outsiders breaking into local businesses.

Cicero quickly started trending nationally on Twitter and media outlets flocked to town to cover the events which left two people dead, at least 60 arrested, many injured and ultimately heightened tension in a community still struggling and traumatized from the COVID-19 crisis.

That same week similar scenes of targeted violence towards Black people by non-Black people were happening in other neighborhoods in Chicago such as Little Village, Pilsen, and Bridgeport.

Inspired by South Side Weekly, we drew on personal testimonies, social media posts, and public records requests to create this timeline and aid in our communal understanding of what went down that weekend and the days after. While no one can ever fully understand why things happened the way they did, we hope our attempt to document this historic day, and the days that followed, can lead to important conversations, transformation and necessary change.

What happened on June 1 wasn’t the first time racial violence has happened in Cicero, but it can be the last.

May 25

George Floyd is Killed by Minneapolis Police

George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, is killed by a Minneapolis police officer. Video footage is captured by bystanders and sparks outrage across the globe as millions of people take to the streets to declare that Black Lives Matter. 

Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is eventually charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

President Trump will later address the protesters, giving them an ultimatum. On Twitter, Trump calls the George Floyd protesters "thugs" and writes, "When the looting starts, the shooting starts."

May 30

Massive protest in downtown Chicago

In Chicago, tens of thousands rally in the Loop in protest of the police killing of George Floyd. 

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot orders the bridges along Wacker Drive to be lifted. CTA train and bus routes are shut down leaving protesters trapped in the downtown area. Lightfoot implements a curfew from 9 p.m. - 6 a.m. and access to the Loop is closed for the next several days.

South Side Weekly reports that there are 494 arrests citywide. Between May 29 and June 4 more than 250 complaints are filed against the Chicago Police Department with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker declares Cook County a disaster area and activates the National Guard.

Photo above and below by Jesus J. Montero

May 31

Social unrest moves to Cicero and Berwyn

With access to downtown cut off, many of the activities spread to Chicago’s surrounding neighborhoods, including Cicero and Berwyn.

Stores like Walgreens, CVS and Menards begin closing their doors. Reports and videos of individuals breaking into stores at North Riverside Mall begin circulating on social media. At least one person is shot near the Olive Garden in North Riverside. Berwyn Mayor Roberto J. Lovero imposes a curfew beginning at 8pm. 

The Cicero Public Works Department begins installing barricades at Hawthorne Works Plaza, Cicero Marketplace, Walgreens and the Walmart parking lot on Cicero Avenue. Infinity Liquors / Lounge on Roosevelt Road, Sports N’ Fashion on Cermak Road and at least seven other businesses report break-ins or burglary attempts to the Cicero Police Department, according to records obtained by Cicero Independiente.

The Town of Cicero announces that nine individuals are arrested by the end of the day.

Photo by Abel Rodriguez

June 1

Racial Tensions Erupt

June 1, 3:25 p.m.

Cicero resident begins Facebook livestream of early unrest

In the afternoon long-time Cicero resident Gerardo Nava begins walking around the area to monitor the situation after hearing about groups of people participating in break-ins. He begins live streaming much of what he observes.

“As I walked to Cicero Avenue, I noticed that a part of Cermak Road was closed off and I began to survey the surroundings and I realized that something was about to go down,” Nava says. “I made a conscious decision to livestream and record every second of what was going on. I also wanted to commentate and explain to the best of my ability to inform people what was going on. My adrenaline was growing as time passed.”

Nava’s livestream shows images of a large police presence on Cicero Avenue and Cermak Road with many of them heavily armed while responding to reports of looting. 

The Cicero Public Works Department creates a steel barricade around the Hawthorne Works Shopping Center on Cermak Road and Cicero Avenue while some police officers are posted at the entrances of the shopping center and in front of some of the stores. A large group of individuals bypass officers and enter the parking lot before being confronted by police. 

Nava’s livestream quickly gains over 200,000 views and thousands of comments as it is one of the earliest sources of information about the growing tension. 

Crowds of non-Black Latinx residents begin to grow and claim they are on the lookout for people looting. Violence soon breaks out. 

At one point in his livestream, non-Black Latinx residents can be seen verbally intimidating a Black man that accompanies Nava. Nava defends the man who eventually says he should get going for his own safety. This altercation prompts many community residents who are watching the livestream to head to the streets and begin de-escalation efforts.

“I wanted to intervene a lot more than just to record, but part of me shut down because I didn’t have the physical or mental strength in me to continue,” Nava says. “But deep down I knew I had to do my part to inform [Cicero residents] and support the stability of peace as best I could.”

Photo above by Jonathan Aguilar

June 1, 4:47 p.m.

Some Cicero residents attempt to de-escalate violence

A small group of Cicero residents, some of whom are members of a local organization called Rizoma Collective, try to de-escalate the situation by talking to non-Black Latinx community members and urging them to go home. Some carry Black Lives Matter signs and step in between clashing groups. 

Angelita Ruiz is one of those people who is on the streets trying to de-escalate. 

“We as residents were trying to stop one man from being murdered by a mob,” she says. “It felt really helpless because it was a few of us out there trying to keep the peace and everybody else was just like, on level ten.”

“I think it was exacerbated by the fact that the police were encouraging in some ways,” Ruiz continues. “At one point a police officer drove by and cheered them around and said 'Viva la raza.'”

“Since when do they [police] allow people to just hang outside in the corners with sticks and bats and then start screaming at cars?” asks Raymundo, another Cicero resident who was monitoring the unrest and declined to share his last name for privacy concerns. 

Photo by Jesus. J. Montero

June 1, 5 p.m.

El Patron Liquor Store is breached

Several large stones are thrown into the front window of El Patron Liquor Store on 23rd Street and Cicero Avenue. WGN airs live footage of people breaking into the store.  Police quickly arrive at the store and create a large perimeter in the parking lot. Police make several arrests and can be seen releasing an unmuzzled dog into the crowd. 

“We’re all safe,” Sanip Patel, owner of El Patron says to a Chicago Tribune reporter. “This is replaceable, lives aren’t. America has to build again, so we have to build again.”

Photos by Jesus J. Montero

June 1, 5:08 p.m.

Cicero Police Department makes a request for assistance

The Cicero Police Department puts out a call to other law enforcement agencies to assist in responding to the growing unrest.

According to the police scanner, Cicero police receive assistance from the Illinois State Police Department, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Berwyn Police Department as well as the Morton College Police Department. The majority of them are stationed at Cermak Road and Cicero Avenue at the Hawthorne Works Shopping Center.

Photo above by Jonathan Aguilar

June 1, 5:26 p.m.

Someone throws a metal rod at a Black 25 year old man driving through the 4700 block of 21st Street. Images on Facebook show the metal rod piercing the man's shoulder and bystanders attempting to help as they wait for authorities. The man is taken to Mt. Sinai Hospital in serious condition. A Gofundme page titled “Driving While Black” is created to raise funds for his recovery.

June 1, 5:30 p.m.

Victor M. Cazares, 27, is shot in front of the Super Espiga Grocery store. Cazares is taken to Mount Sinai Medical Center and is pronounced dead at 7:31 p.m. Another person is shot along with Cazares, who receives minor injuries.

June 1, 5:50 p.m.

The violence continues

In other Facebook Live videos, an older Spanish-speaking man can be seen bleeding on the ground at the northwest corner of Cicero Avenue and Cermak Road, but it is unclear what caused the incident. Bystanders allege he was beaten. Paramedics treat his wounds and leave the disoriented man in front of the Walgreens at Cermak and Cicero. 

On that same intersection in another video, a young Black man is seen being beaten by a group of non-Black Latinx people. Police eventually interfere and drag the young Black man out of the street and onto the sidewalk. He is eventually taken away in an ambulance. Non-Black Latinx residents break the windows and smash the doors of a car that, bystanders say, is the man’s vehicle. Afterwards a few of the de-escalators give the unidentified Black man’s cousin and two other Black youth a ride home.

Photos by Jesus J. Montero

June 1, 6 p.m.

Armed residents who wish to remain anonymous say they are protecting their homes and local businesses. “We’re out here because we saw how crazy things were getting. We wanted to protect our neighborhood,” says one resident.  

Photo by Jesus J. Montero

June 1, 6:55 p.m.

Jose Gutierrez, 28, is shot and killed on the 2100 block of 50th Avenue in front of La Chiquita. He is taken to Mount Sinai Medical Center, where he is pronounced dead at 9:53 p.m. A Chicago man is charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Gutierrez.

Photo by Jonathan Aguilar

June 1, 7:56 p.m.

Armed men guard dollar store

All afternoon throughout the unrest a group of men holding what appear to be assault rifles are stationed on the roof of Dollar Buster$ on Cermak Road and Laramie Avenue. According to the Cicero police scanner the men are associates of the store owner.

Photo by Luz Chavez

June 1, 9:05 p.m.

State police march down Cermak

Two lines of state police officers in riot gear march down Cermak Road while chanting in unison, “left, right, left, right.”

As the sun goes down the crowds start to disperse and people return home. By the end of the night 60 people are arrested, according to the Cicero Police Department.

Town of Cicero officials report more than one hundred Cicero officers who are joined by over 120 officers from the Cook County Sheriff’s Office and the Illinois State Police remain on the streets patrolling all night.

Photo by Ankur Singh

June 2

The Aftermath

June 2, 9 a.m.

Clean up

After a tense night, community members gather the next morning at the Planet Fitness parking lot at 23rd Street and Cicero Avenue to clean up any debris. Some local businesses join and distribute masks, gloves, trash bags and refreshments. The event quickly turns into more than just a clean-up. It’s also a place for community members to gather and process the events from the day before. 

“I came out here to speak with my community and to spread love,” says Lydia Villagrana, a longtime Cicero resident. “We need to be in charge of our own communities to keep the peace.”

Antonio Benavides, another lifelong Cicero resident who was on the streets the day before attempting to de-escalate violence, is also present at the clean-up with a broom in hand.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions about what was going on. There’s a lot of hatred. People are angry. Our job is to be peacemakers,” Benavides says. “I came out here doing my best. I feel like I failed because so much happened...we need to stand by our community members that are angry and we need to bring them back to a place of calm and ease. We want normalcy.” “It’s really hard,” he adds. “I’m heartbroken.

Photos by Jesus J. Montero

June 2, 12:30 p.m.

Protest outside Town Hall

Many Cicero residents congregate outside Town Hall calling for justice for George Floyd and other Black people who have been killed by police. Protestors also call for unity after the day of unrest exacerbated racial tensions.

“The reason why we came is because Black people in Cicero were assaulted yesterday,” says Shapearl Wells, a Cicero resident and one of the organizers of the protest. 

“I think that our silence is something that perpetuates the violence,” Wells says at the protest. “A couple of my friends were so outraged...that we decided to do an impromptu march and rally today on Town Hall because we felt that these are the people that can actually make the change and these are the people that actually are responsible for protecting Black [people].” 

According to Wells the night of June 1 she was personally harassed by a group of non-Black Latinx residents who had approached her car. Shortly afterwards she posted a video on Facebook of her confronting police officers outside of Town Hall. “I will not be harassed in my own town, my family will not be harassed...there’s very few Black people here,” she told two police officers sitting inside a white vehicle.

“I understand how you feel. We are trying to stop all of that,” a police officer responded in the video.  

Photos by Jesus J. Montero

June 2, 2 p.m.

Town of Cicero press conference

Cicero Police Superintendent Jerry Chlada Jr. announces that the Town is imposing a curfew at 8 p.m. and is implementing several road closures: Cicero Avenue from Roosevelt Road through Ogden Avenue, Cermak Road from 47th Avenue through 50th Avenue, 16th Street from 46th Street through Cicero Avenue. Residents are advised by the Cicero Police Department to avoid these locations “at all costs.” 

Chlada also says Cicero police responded to 41 calls of shots fired throughout the day and acknowledged that many residents were on the streets acting as vigilantes.

“The Cicero Police Department has necessary resources to handle our call volume and are asking all Cicero residents not to be involved in taking the law into their own hands. Once again, we are asking our residents to remain in their homes,” Chlada says. “At this time the Town of Cicero and President Larry Dominick has declared a State of Emergency. We are asking all residents to stay home today and do not congregate on any of our roadways. Any large crowds will be dispersed.”

Town of Cicero President Larry Dominick says, “When people come in to protest as long as it is a nice clean protest, we’ll never interfere but when they come here to riot, break windows, fight, shoot, we’re not going to tolerate it. We’re going to stand up to ‘em and we’re gonna do the best we can.” 

Documents obtained by Cicero Independiente show that at least 11 people were arrested for criminal trespass to property, 2 for burglary, 5 for disorderly conduct and 9 had no reason for arrest on the arrest booking sheet.

The above is a since deleted Tweet from the Cicero Police Department

June 2, 2:25 p.m.

President Larry Dominick is confronted by protestors outside town hall

Shortly after the press conference ends, Dominick, Chlada and other town officials step outside to answer questions from the protestors who are gathered in front of the town hall.

Tensions are high as protestors and residents accuse the Town of Cicero for not doing enough to stop violence against Black people and for not dispersing non-Black Latinx residents who were on street corners with weapons. 

Photo by Jesus J. Montero

June 2, 4:12 p.m.

Protesters take to the street

Protestors move from Town Hall and begin marching west down Cermak Road. At the intersection of Laramie Avenue and Cermak Road they take a knee and a moment of silence to call for justice and unity.

“The reason why I'm out here is because I understand that the real people who want us to fight are the ones that are killing us and locking us up,” says Yahbataza Yasharala who is present at the protest.

“As long as we kill each other they can survive but as soon as we unite, just like the Black Panthers and like the Brown Berets...we were one united people on the front,” Yasharala said.

Protestors march west on Cermak Road to Harlem Avenue and back to the Cicero Town Hall. 

Photo by Jesus J. Montero

June 2, 8 p.m.

Curfew begins

The protest ends shortly before the first night of curfew begins. Despite anxieties and rumors of continued violence the night remains peaceful. Cicero police report only two calls of shots fired and no significant incidents.

Photo from the Town of Cicero Facebook page

June 3

Solidarity Protests Continue

June 3, 1:30 p.m.

Loved ones of Victor M. Cazares gather for vigil

Friends and family as well as many Cicero residents come together on the corner of 14th Street and 49th Court where Cazares was killed on June 1. The group gathers to pay their respects, offer water and other resources, and join for a prayer. Cicero police also visit to give their condolences and reassure everyone that they are looking for those responsible. Click here to read our feature of Cazares in, “Victor Cazares Jr, A Life Taken in Cicero”

Photo by Jesus J. Montero

June 3, 3 p.m.

Dreadhead Cowboy comes to Cicero

Dozens of protesters gather outside of the Cicero Town Hall to continue calling for unity between Black and Brown communities and to demand justice for George Floyd.

Today they are joined by Adam Hollingsworth, famously known throughout Chicago as the Dreadhead Cowboy who often makes appearances at protests. As chants of “Black Lives Matter” ring throughout Cermak Road, Hollingsworth entertains onlookers as he does flips and tricks off of his horse, helping build the unity that activists are calling for.

Hollingsworth says, “I feel like everybody should be off social media and pay attention to what's really going on, the bigger picture, which is the crooked cops, these racist cops in these uniforms are supposed to protect us and instead they killing us.”

Photo by Jesus J. Montero

June 5

Community members gather for vigil

Members of A Beautiful Project, a faith-based organization, gather to distribute produce, canned food, rice, water and masks along with goody bags with sandwiches for kids. 

“We just wanted to come during these times we are all facing with the difficulties from COVID to now, we are fighting racism. We just really want the community to come together. United is better than dividing,” says Suzzane Navarrete, a leader of A Beautiful Project. “We want to give back, we want to love on our people because we grew up here too.” 

Photos by April Alonso and Jesus J. Montero

June 6

Town of Cicero officials host “Uniting our Communities for Prayer” event

A large group gathers at the Cicero Community Park for a vigil sponsored by the Town of Cicero. Attending the event are congregations from many churches in Cicero and nearby Chicago. Many local elected officials and Willie Wilson are also present.

Town employees, newly appointed Cook County Commissioner Frank J. Aguilar, State Representative Elizabeth Hernandez and other elected officials take pictures holding an “All Souls Matter” sign.

Read our Op-Ed on Cicero's history of race riots.

Photo from the Town of Cicero Official Facebook Page

June 7

The Massive Cicero March

June 7, 2:30 p.m.

Community members gather for vigil for Jose Gutierrez 

Friends and family of Jose Gutierrez pay their respect at a vigil in front of La Chiquita. A tamborazo is performing for the vigil in the parking lot while simultaneously Cicero’s most massive Black Lives Matter protest is gathering across the street at the town hall. Gutierrez was shot and killed on the corner of Cermak and 50th Avenue on June 1.

Photo by Jesus J. Montero

June 7, 3 p.m

Hundreds march from Cicero to Berwyn

Hundreds of Cicero and Berwyn residents gather in front of Cicero Town Hall for one of the biggest Black Lives Matter marches in recent Cicero history.  A small car caravan meant to accompany the march is prevented from gathering at the planned location by Cicero police and is unable to follow the crowd down Cermak Road. Amongst the march’s demands are addressing anti-Black racism in Cicero and calls to defund the police as they march west on Cermak Road.

“I’m tired of seeing police brutality across the world,” Ulises Gonzalez says. “These marches are the most beautifulest thing...It’s something I never seen my whole entire lifetime here in Cicero.” 

Aerial photo above by Jesus J. Montero Photos by April Alonso

June 7, 4:09 p.m

Taking a knee and moment of silence

The marchers make a circle at the intersection of Laramie Avenue and 25th Street, the exact spot where in May 1966 Black teenager Jerome Huey was killed by a mob of white teenagers after briefly visiting Cicero for a job interview.

Protesters take a knee and pause for a moment of silence to remember Huey, Floyd, and other Black people who lost their lives due to police violence and white supremacy. 

“I am Black and I have always known that Black Lives Matter so I will be down for any and everything about Black people, Black culture, Black whatever. But I also love everybody else too,” Darnell Michael Woods says. “I come through Cicero all the time and I really couldn’t understand that it was Mexicans fucking with Black people and I know that’s not Cicero...all I want is respect. You don’t even have to live next to me but you’re going to give me my equality. I’m happy I came today.” 

Photo by April Alonso

June 7, 5:18 p.m

Protest continues to Cicero/Berwyn border

The protesters continue marching from Cicero and eventually reach Berwyn. The march once again forms a circle at the intersection of Lombard Avenue and Cermak Road. Protestors take another moment of silence, this time for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time the Minneapolis police officer had his knee on George Floyd’s neck. 

After the moment of silence Black residents are invited to the middle of the circle to share whatever is on their minds. An organizer leads a chant by Assata Shakur. 

Photo by Jesus J. Montero

June 7, 8 p.m

Protest ends, curfew begins

The protest ends. Activists and community residents slowly disperse to get home before the nightly curfew begins.

June 8, 6:30 a.m

State of Emergency lifted

The Town of Cicero lifts its nightly curfew and is no longer in a State of Emergency.