CHICAGO (CBS) — Demolition crews are back out at a plant in Little Village to finish work they had to stop when a massive dust cloud covered the neighborhood, and the work reignited anger.
That anger led to protests spilling into the street, blocking traffic, which then led to a driver getting out of his truck to start throwing punches. It’s just another sign of frustrations at their boiling point.
With fists up the driver belted out obscenities at Hilco protesters before throwing the first punch.
“He got pretty aggressive and started pushing people,” said protester Rey Wences.
The driver was upset they were blocking his way, but the protesters have been upset for months, years even.
On April 11 a thick cloud of dust blanketed the predominantly Latino Little Village, a neighborhood already hit hard by COVID-19. Video by Alejandro Reyes shows how far the cloud traveled.
Irma Morales watched from her front door.
“Scared and anxious,” she said. “I thought I was getting poisoning. I felt itchy in my nose and throat.”
And although the city said samples from the dust cloud didn’t contain asbestos or toxic metals, the people who live there say Hilco has lost their trust, and now is not the time to take chances.
“I don’t want now demolition to continue because of the pandemic,” Morales said.
With the pandemic still here, and as the city battles racial tensions, she said Little Village is fighting three battles at once with environmental racism added to the mix.
“It’s a mix of feelings, frustration, angry,” she said.
Alderman Mike Rodriguez and protesters who were there Friday morning said they want the driver to face charges while they continue their fight against Hilco.
“This is like abuse and oppression from the city to the minorities. They are poisoning us, especially in this time of pandemic crisis,” Morales said.
Sunbelt, the company that owns the driver’s truck, said they are taking this situation very seriously and doing everything they can to look into it.
But Rodriguez said he is meeting with the mayor next week to ask again if the demolition can be tabled for after the pandemic is over.
Hilco sent the following statement regarding the demolition:
The mechanical dismantling of the turbine building, the smaller of the two remaining structures located at the former Crawford Station property is moving forward just as planned and approved by the City of Chicago publicly. This is a controlled standard dismantling of the structure (not an implosion) conducted by Heneghan Wrecking & Excavation Co, Inc. in accordance with the dust mitigation plans approved by the City of Chicago Department of Buildings and Department of Public Health.
The City of Chicago held numerous public community meetings explaining that the remaining structures onsite are unsafe and need to be taken down. There has also been significant community notification by Hilco Redevelopment Partners which not only including last week’s media alert but also extensive bilingual door-to-door canvasing and robotic calls within the community.
Importantly, we continue to work in close cooperation with City of Chicago officials as well as local, state and federal agencies to insure that safety of the residents of Little Village is the number 1 priority. We’re committed to making things right with the community and are saddened that unfortunate events on April 11th cast a bad light on what is a very positive economic development project for the Little Village Community and Chicago that is expected to bring many local jobs.
The project – Exchange 55, will have state of the art technology with solar panels surrounded by 700 native Illinois trees and is expected to generate jobs for local residents who can ride a new bike path to work right from the local community rather than traveling hours to work in the suburbs. Exchange 55 will rise from an unsightly coal fired power plant that once stood in its place.