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Man sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for inciting riots in central Chicago during the riots of 2020 – Chicago Tribune

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On Tuesday, a man from Chicago was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for inciting looting and participating in a robbery during the civil unrest that engulfed the city in August 2020, including for breaking into a marijuana dispensary.

Earlier this year, 23-year-old James Messi pleaded guilty to inciting riots, admitting in a plea agreement with prosecutors that he posted several videos and Facebook posts urging people to travel to downtown Chicago to participate in property damage. and robberies.

Messi was later captured on video surveillance, which helps rob and destroy four businesses, including the West Loop mobile phone store and the Windy City Cannabis marijuana dispensary in the Middle North.

The verdict was one of the most significant sentences handed down by a Chicago federal court to date in connection with civil unrest that erupted in cities across the country in the summer of 2020 following a series of high-profile incidents with police since the murder of George. Floyd in Minneapolis in late May.

Rejecting the defense’s request for probation, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly said Tuesday that Messi had done a disservice to legitimate protesters who were trying to draw attention to the problem of police misconduct.

Kennelly also acknowledged attorney Messi’s attempt to draw parallels with the riots at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, saying that in both cases involved “a bunch of people who mostly said to themselves, ‘We don’t like what’s going on there, so we’re’ going to destroy a bunch of things.” ». ”

“If we react like that, the law is gone,” Kennelly said during a video conference hearing. “It’s the rule of the crowd, it’s the justice of the piles, and no one wants that.”

Messi has been in custody at the capital’s correctional facility since August 2021, when he was arrested while trying to illegally buy a gun at an Indiana gun store while on bail. With good behavior he will be eligible for release in about five months.

Before Kennelly handed down the verdict, Messi brought a brief apology to the court, saying the behavior he was doing that night was behind him. He also said he was “not the only one” who posted similar things on social media, and believes he became a target of law enforcement, “because I had the most views”.

According to the court, Messi’s call to action began with messages he posted on Facebook on August 9, 2020, in which he told people to meet him on 63rd Street and South Racine Avenue, to then travel in a group downtown. Shortly before midnight, Messi posted a photo of himself on Facebook with the caption: “Let’s get ready to steal (swearing),” the complaint said.

“WARNING, WARNING, the lottery starts at 12 am,” another statement said, according to a screenshot included in the indictment. “ONLY TOOLS, SKI MASK AND GLOVES ARE CARRIED IN THE CENTER AND NORTHERN WORK.”

Several people responded to the message to discuss their plans to rob and comment on how it is happening, including one Facebook user who told others in the group, “We like 13 cars in depth,” prosecutors said.

Early on Aug. 10, several people smashed the windows of a marijuana dispensary in 900 West Weed Street using tools they had taken from the trunk of a messy car parked in the dispensary’s parking lot, the complaint said.

About half an hour later, Messi was caught on video surveillance cameras as he approached a retail store in Quarter 800 on North Michigan Avenue, brandishing an iron while another man smashed a shop window, the complaint said.

Messi and several others allegedly entered the store and stole a variety of coats before returning to Messi’s car, the complaint said. A few minutes later, the man announced in the Facebook group that, according to the accusations, they “just got” to the store.

Messi was also involved in the robbery of a store in the South Loop neighborhood and a Verizon store in the West Loop, the complaint said.

When Messi was warned that his messages inciting looting were spread on social media, he allegedly replied that he did not care, according to the criminal case. “(Lek) dem … freedom of speech,” he allegedly wrote.

Asking for a sentence of up to 21 months, U.S. Attorney General Aaron Bond said the damage to only two of the looted stores was estimated at $ 185,000. He also said that Messi’s actions that night were similar to “delivering a match to gas-soaked firewood.”

Messi’s lawyer Ilya Usharovich said that although what happened was “horrible”, it was an immediate crime and that keeping Messi behind bars will not help cure the root causes of the robbery.

“This is a young man who made stupid, stupid decisions,” Usharovich said. “He wanted to be recognized. He wanted to be a part of something. “

But Kennelly said that no matter how well thought out, Messi still committed a “really serious crime.”

“If stupidity was a defense against crime, there would be no more crimes,” the judge said.

jmeisner@chicagotribune.com

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