Claudia Morell, The Daily Line
In a gymnasium packed with city employees and invited community leaders at Malcolm X College Thursday night, Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled his three-part strategy to address gun violence in Chicago, leaving out one critical issue facing the city: police reform.
“Today I am calling on all Chicagoans to join in a comprehensive plan, a blueprint, to confront gun violence,” the Mayor told an audience of about 400 invited guests. Outside, a couple dozen protesters with CPAC, a Civilian Police Accountability Council, handed out fliers and picketed at the entrance of the gym. They were flanked by police who used their bikes as a barricade. “No matter who you are, what your background is, where you live in Chicago, this fight belongs to all of us.”
The speech had been announced a couple weeks prior, with minor details trickling out over the past few days, like the hiring of 970 police officers over the next two years and bolstering existing youth programs to the stymie the prevalence of gang violence among Chicago youth.
Emanuel expanded on those details in his speech: every Chicago police officer will have a body-worn camera and be equipped with a taser, all 8th-10th grade male
students enrolled in Chicago Public Schools who live in one of the city’s 20 highest crime neighborhoods will be connected with a mentor. There was no mention of how much the cameras and tasers will cost. The three-year mentoring program will cost the city $36 million, supported by public and private dollars.
But of all the topics the mayor addressed in his 11-page speech on combating gun violence, few words were uttered on the issue of the police reform. He mentioned it in passing, mostly highlighting reforms that the city has already implemented, such as new protocols for the timely release of police videos. Those release changes were originally drafted by the Police Accountability Task Force in the wake of the public outcry over the handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
Emanuel said he was “fully committed to adopting a citizen oversight board that will provide a strong and active voice for the community,” but never mentioned when exactly that plan will be rolled out. He noted that he and the City Council are working on replacing the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) with a new organization, COPA, which “will have the tools to ensure real accountability when wrongdoing occurs.” But he didn’t expand upon that point, even as the City Council is expected to take up his police reform package in two weeks without knowing key details.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32), Chairman of the Council’s Progressive Caucus, said that disappointed him. “We’ve spent many months trying to work on the police reform issues, you know, we spent years trying to dig up different ways to work on discipline within the department. You have the new COPA and [Public Safety Inspector General] ordinance, and that was brushed over here with no commitment to funding, no commitment to the independent counsel, and no commitment to transparency on that,” said Ald. Waguespack. “And to just brush it off tonight, I think, just undervalued it greatly.”
The same sentiment was raised by Rev. Marshall Hatch, the Senior Pastor of the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church of West Garfield and an organizer with Cure Violence. “It’s a glaring omission in that respect, because people are really concerned. Is the police department going to look different with these new recruits? And that really needs to happen. Otherwise we’re going to get more of the same kind of dysfunctional relation with the community, unless we change the culture of the new department.”
The speech was divided into three parts for the three-prong approach Mayor Emanuel plans to implement to address the recent surge in gun violence in Chicago: enforcement, prevention, and intervention.
The enforcement section focused heavily on the planned new hires: 516 police officers on city streets, 92 field training officers to improve individualized training; 112 sergeants and 50 lieutenants whom Police Supt. Eddie Johnson will promote; 200 detectives to expedite investigations; and 200 more civilian personnel staff.
He also spoke of implementing new “gunshot-tracing cameras” in the city’s most violent police districts. “These cameras will help our officers respond more quickly to shootings while providing evidence to help identify and convict violent offenders,” he said.
Legislation to impose stricter penalties for repeat gun offenders and and stronger regulations on gun dealers will be part of the Mayor’s legislative agenda in Springfield.
“We need to stop the revolving door for repeat gun offenders,” he explained, arguing the shooting death last month of Nykea Aldridge, Dwyane Wade’s cousin, could have been prevented if the “alleged perpetrators had been given the sentences they deserved for previous crimes.” While walking down the street to register her children at Dulles Elementary School, Aldridge was gunned down by two brothers, both had priors.
(Although, when he delivered his remarks he repeatedly replaced “violent offenders”, the phrase used in his prepared remarks, with “gun offenders”.)
Emanuel called the the final element of his speech, intervention, the “most important.” Here he outlined plans to improve social service programs for youth in the city’s most violence prone neighborhoods. At this point he also went off script, decrying, and naming, the major gangs that take over neighborhoods and serve as the “role models, mentors, and the families for these young men.”
Also name-checked were Exelon, Peoples Gas, Bank of America, Get in Chicago, and Jimmy Johns. All are putting up part of the cash needed to fund the mentorship programs. (On Wednesday The Daily Line reported that Mayor Emanuel received $15,000 in donations from the chairman of the Jimmy John’s franchise, James Liautaud, his wife, Leslie, and the president and CEO of the sandwich franchise, James North.)
As the Mayor’s new Chief Neighborhood Development Officer, Andrea Zopp will be tasked with leading up some of the new neighborhood investments and job programs. “[Mayor Emanuel] made it clear that this issue of gun violence is an issue for our whole city, that we have to come together,” she said after the speech. “He made it very clear that we can’t fix this just with more police, and more support of the police.”
“There is obviously much work to be done,” said Police Board President and Chair of the Mayor’s Task Force on Police Accountability, Lori Lightfoot, in an email to The Daily Line adding that it was “important and indeed essential” that the mayor used his leadership post to address an issue that plagues so many communities. “Aside from making sure that all of our law enforcement partners – local, county, state and federal are using every tool in their tools kits, we know that the root causes of the violence cannot be addressed by law enforcement alone. We have to come up with a comprehensive plan to create opportunity and hope.”
But Englewood Ald. David Moore (17), a frequent critic of Emanuel, said the mayor’s focus on economic development “was not enough.” He said he wants specific large scale development projects, like the new Whole Foods in Englewood, on a regular basis, not just the promise of job fairs and mentoring programs.
“When he went out there,” said Ald. Moore of the Whole Foods project, “he put a full court press on, he did everything he had to do to get into Englewood. We just can’t have one thing every so many years. He has to do that all the time.”
Tracy Siska, the Executive Director of Chicago Justice Project and a long time police reform advocate, argued the speech showed that Mayor Emanuel “has learned nothing.”
“The Mayor fails to understand that all the social realities he begged us to find a cure for tonight existed on his first day in office and he has done nothing in the way of meaningful solutions. We heard nothing tonight about his closing of 50 schools or half the city’s mental health clinics,” said Siska. “He did little but dodge responsibility for his choices which is right in line with his actions regarding the faux police accountability he is trying to install in Chicago.”
Asked if the Mayor has the credibility and trust within the African-American community to achieve the goals that he outlined in Thursday night’s speech, especially at a time when his approval rating is at an all time low since the McDonald release, Rev. Hatch said the effort won’t go unnoticed. “We’re pulling for him, because we’re pulling for ourselves. And so it’s not going to do us any good to simply throw cold water on what is probably a heartfelt effort to address the crisis here in the city.”
Mike Fourcher contributed to this report.