Community members confronted a circle of police in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood over a "bait truck" filled with Nike shoes and allegedly left open by police aiming to lure potential thieves and make arrests.
"Y'all dirty, man," a man tells officers in an online video of the incident published Thursday. "Y'all see kids playing ball and you pull a f----- Nike truck into the ghetto."
But Norfolk Southern Railway, which operated the truck with assistance from the Chicago Police Department, denied that the sting targeted neighborhood youth and that the truck was ever left open. Three men, ages 21 and over, were charged with burglary last week after they broke into the truck, police said.
Charles McKenzie, an anti-crime activist who put the video on Facebook, told Vox that the truck appeared next to a basketball court frequented by young people in the largely black neighborhood in the South Side of Chicago. Norfolk Southern spokeswoman Susan Terpay said the truck was never parked near a basketball court, but said that a ball could have been dribbled near the truck.
The truck moved between several locations within a few blocks of rail yards and related properties, Terpay said.
"Freight theft specifically in this area has been increasing as the volume of rail traffic moving through the city of Chicago also increased," she said, describing recent thefts of guns and ammunition from in-transit freight containers.
"This week’s police operation was intended to directly combat such unacceptable thefts," Terpay said.
Chicago police confirmed that Terrell Melvin, 21, David King, 36 and Floyd Allen, 59, were charged with burglary after the truck's secured trailer was broken into last week. Terpay, the railway spokeswoman, denied that the truck was ever left opened with its contents — the Nike shoes — exposed to the public, even after being broken into.
Authorities use everything from fake drugs and modified cars to GPS-affixed packages and bikes to weed out thieves nationwide. Theft of in-transit property, known as cargo theft, caused nearly $27 million in losses in 2016, according to FBI data. Both local and federal agencies conduct such "bait" operations, Vox noted.
But some community members perceived the bait truck, left in an impoverished neighborhood, as an obvious attempt to target black youth as racially lopsided arrests unfold nationwide.
"The police parked a truck with boxes of Nike shoes in front of kids, lifted up," McKenzie, the activist, said on Facebook, "and when people hop in the truck, the police hopping out on them."
McKenzie founded Gods Gorillas, a group promoting job assistance and alternatives to violence in Chicago. His video, which has 630,000 views on Facebook, later picked up another 290,000 views on WorldStar.
In another video, YouTuber Martin G. Johnson allegedly depicts the bait truck traveling between locations with "plainsclothes, FBI-looking type guys." Once parked, he films community members telling authorities to remove the vehicle from their neighborhood.
"Kids shouldn't be breaking back into trucks," a police officer responds.
After the confrontation, however, the white truck is driven away.
"That's what advocacy looks like," one man says. "Good job, people."
See Johnson's video below, and read more on bait operations at Vox. (Warning: Video contains profanity.)