As Chicago’s election returns rolled in the evening of April 4, reporters and talking heads detailed a slew of challenges that would confront Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson when he takes over as Chicago’s mayor.
This talking head had only one question: What was Johnson’s plan for the summer? He would be inaugurated on May 15, days before the Memorial Day weekend, our unofficial beginning of the summer season.
Well, summer is already here. A little more than a week ago, unseasonably warm weather lured hundreds of teens and young adults into the streets, where they proceeded to take over and wreak havoc in Chicago’s Loop and at 31st Street Beach.
Two teens were shot downtown. Video on mainstream and social media played a movie we’ve seen before. Teenagers and young adults running wild, jumping and dancing on cars and CTA buses, running into traffic. A bus driver was assaulted. A couple who ventured out for dinner were attacked and robbed.
The police had no plan to quell the bedlam. It was an early sign of perilous times ahead — and a test for the incoming mayor. In response, Johnson issued a statement.
“In no way do I condone the destructive activity we saw in the Loop and lakefront this weekend,” he declared on April 16. “It is unacceptable and has no place in our city. However, it is not constructive to demonize youth who have otherwise been starved of opportunities in their own communities.”
Johnson is trying to have it both ways. That means, no way. He then reiterated his promise of a public safety plan that will “make Chicago livable for everyone.”
The Chicago Police Department is not yet under Johnson’s watch, but the summer is already here. Johnson needs a plan, now.
Chicago’s young people have many dire needs in this city, and the city’s powers must address the long-term causes of those maladies. But as the mayoral campaign reminded us, ad nauseam, that public safety is Job No. 1, 2 and 3. All the other challenges — social and racial inequities in economic development, education, health care, housing — can be met only in a safe city.
Those young people should know right from wrong, and if they don’t, they must be taught, punished or both. The latter task rests with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. The former, with parents. Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s response to the recent events said it best.
She expects that young people wanted “to have a good time and enjoy the unseasonably warm weather,” she said. “However, some of those young people were involved in reckless, disrespectful and unlawful behavior.”
That will not be tolerated, Lightfoot noted. “Most importantly, parents and guardians must know where their children are and be responsible for their actions. Instilling the important values of respect for people and property must begin at home.”
In this age of political correctness gone wild, few city leaders will say that aloud.
Johnson promised to bring on 200 new police detectives to help solve more crimes. You don’t need 200 — or even one — to produce a plan to stop marauding teenagers. The police were outflanked, or even unwilling to serve. That must change.
The police department is in disarray, and morale is plummeting. The rank and file are said to be reluctant to serve a mayor who has made past calls to “defund the police.” Johnson has discarded that mantra, but deep distrust remains.
In the heat of the mayoral campaign, John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, predicted that 800 to 1,000 Chicago police officers would leave the force if Johnson won, The New York Times reported.
“If this guy gets in, we’re going to see an exodus like we’ve never seen before,” Catanzara told the newspaper, and there would be “blood in the streets.” That could be Catanzara’s typical hyperbolic rhetoric. But the exodus may have already started, and at the highest ranks.
On Thursday, interim police Superintendent Eric Carter announced he will resign from the department, effective May 15. Lightfoot tapped Carter to lead the department after former Superintendent David Brown resigned.
The search for a new, permanent superintendent is underway. Johnson and the new leader he will choose must make peace with the police.
Laura Washington is a political commentator and longtime Chicago journalist. Her columns appear in the Tribune each Monday. Write to her at LauraLauraWashington@gmail.com.