The man whose story went viral after he allegedly filmed himself breaking into an ATM machine in Chicago is speaking out, saying he feels remorseful and apologetic for his actions during the incident.
Aaron Neal is the 20-year-old Englewood man who was apparently seen in a Facebook Live video, which he recorded, during a string of looting incidents that happened across Chicago last week.
According to prosecutors, Neal headed into downtown Chicago early last Monday, along with dozens of other individuals, when widespread looting broke out in the city.
Prosecutors say Neal spotted an ATM inside a vestibule at a Gold Coast business, and in a video streamed live on Facebook, he repeatedly hit the machine with a hammer.
Now he faces charges in connection with the incident, and he spoke exclusively to our Christian Farr about the incident.
“It’s disturbing, when you look at it, it’s somebody who was there, hitting on an ATM, saying that they’re going to go someplace else and loot,” Farr said during the interview. What do you say about that for people who are pointing the finger at you, and are not happy with what you’re doing in that video?”
“I’m not a looter,” Neal said. “I normally don’t loot. That’s not what I do. I’m a working man.”
Neal, who spent several nights in jail and was arraigned on felony charges in connection with the incident, says that he has a message for those that were impacted by his alleged actions, including business owners and other residents.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m very remorseful, because if I was a business owner myself, I would understand where they are coming from, and their pain. Because one day I might be able to be a business owner and I wouldn’t want it to happen to my business.”
According to Chicago police, they began receiving tips on the incident less than 90 minutes after releasing the cell phone camera footage that Neal shot, and after he turned himself in to authorities, he was arraigned on felony charges in connection with the incident.
During his time in jail, Neal says he had plenty of time to think.
“It makes you lose your mind, and in a way, it makes you go crazy,” he said. “You can’t talk to the people you normally talk to, hear voices you normally hear, or do things you normally do.”
After seeing how Neal’s story played out, two youth community activists reached out, asking him to come forward and to tell his story.
While neither activist condones looting, they want to help Neal, and others like him, to get a second chance, and to turn a negative into a positive for both himself and for the Chicago community.
“After he took accountability for his actions, there should be a focus on why he did what he did, and what can be done for it to not happen again,” Korporate, a community activist, said.
“We’ve got to understand that we have to tackle the root causes, to make sure that we’re investing in people, and not just continuing to invest in property, jail and punishment,” activist Ja’Mal Green added.
Weeks before the incident, Neal says he was laid off from his job, which for now his chances of continuing his second year in college. The 20-year-old does not have a criminal record, but does not want any of these things to be seen as him making excuses for what he was allegedly shown doing in the video.
“It shouldn’t have happened. I regret doing it,” he said. “I shouldn’t have been out there doing it.”