In a move that drew near-universal criticism from Hyde Park residents and officials, Akira on 53rd Street hired a security guard armed with an assault rifle after it was broken into and robbed during last weekend’s unrest. The clothing store, which opened its Hyde Park location in 2012, removed the guard Monday — another guard from the same company did not leave until Tuesday morning.
The man first came to attention during the anti–police brutality march along 53rd Street Sunday afternoon, when protesters pointed him out. At the protest, one officer told the Herald that he thought the guard was with Illinois State Police or the National Guard.
On Twitter, a protester posted a video of the guard with the caption: “This white man had a gun to me and my friend’s face. He was not with the police he was just out here instigating. If he had been black he would have been thrown to the ground, arrested and beaten. But he was peacefully turned away. Because he’s white.”
Security guards are permitted to openly display weapons in Illinois, though they must do so only while "actually engaged in the performance of his or her duty." According to the video, the man was interacting with protesters and police two blocks east of Akira.
The man was in front of Akira late Monday morning with the assault rifle strapped to the front of his chest. He declined to give his name to the Herald. The man also said he was not “at liberty” to explain when he was authorized to use his weapon. The previous day, he said, he had been in communication with the police to alert them to “suspicious characters” around the protest.
He said that he worked for S.O.S. Private Security, and described himself as a “private military contractor.” According to its LinkedIn profile, the company is based in Westmont, a western suburb, and provides armed security, as well as temporary guard replacement. Its slogan is “Next to God, there is no greater protector.”
Akira co-owner Eric Hsueh said he regretted hiring the man, and hadn’t been made aware of the “true details” about the guard’s appearance, including the weapon.
“I did not know that there was such a big protest happening in Hyde Park that night, and I didn’t know what (the guards) were gonna look like,” he said. “When the organized, peaceful protest happened on Sunday, I didn’t know my guy was going to go out there in the crowd.”
After a group of 20 to 30 people broke into the store on Sunday morning, Hsueh estimated, they took about $25,000 of inventory. “I was trying to get the store boarded up, and no boarding company can board it up. I never called a security company ever in my life, and I found a third-party security company,” he said.
On Monday, elected officials condemned the guard’s presence. “I didn’t know fast fashion deserved a paramilitary force during this time of crisis,” said State Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th). “It’s a thoroughly misguided attempt at security by Akira, and I am extremely disappointed.”
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) also said she disapproved. “I can understand during this pandemic and civic unrest how you want to protect our property, but it poses the potential to make matters worse,” she said. “I don’t know if he’s trained in de-escalation.”
A representative from the University of Chicago, which owns the building, called Hsueh on Monday and asked him to remove the guard. “I get a call from the landlord at the University of Chicago, saying it doesn’t look good to have a guy with a gun,” he said. “We don’t have all the answers and I understand how people feel, and I relate to it. There are much bigger pictures here, and the last thing we want to do is be inflammatory.”
Hsueh said that initially the store replaced the initial guard with another one from the same company. “He did leave, but then he was replaced by somebody else that looked like him that was basically white,” he said. “Even though it’s a different person it looks the same.” Eventually, he said, they decided to pull that guard on Monday evening.
Security guards from Tactical Security Chicago — Hsueh said that he wasn’t sure, but it was “highly likely” another company he had hired — were also in front of the store on Monday and Tuesday, while workers were boarding up windows on the building.
On Tuesday afternoon, one guard with Tactical Security, who did not give his name, said that the guard from S.O.S. with the assault rifle had not left until earlier that day, around 9 a.m. During the protest, the Tactical Security guard said, some police officers had criticized the guard for walking around with his assault rifle on display.
Hsueh said that the store had been set to reopen for business on Wednesday, but the date would now be pushed back to next week “at the earliest.”