(Ask The Chicago Police Department And Its Union)
W e are approaching 100 days since Chicago elected its first black female mayor. Oh, and she is also Chicago’s first openly gay mayor as well, making Chicago the largest city in the country with an admittedly gay mayor.
Attorney Lori Elaine Lightfoot’s victory in last April’s general election surprised no one. However, her primary election win two months earlier in a field of fourteen candidates really did shock and awe this city and qualified as a real upset.
She then went on to take the general election by storm, not quite completely obliterating her opponent in an old fashioned, bona fide “landslide.” Lightfoot won every single one of Chicago’s 50 wards and stacked up votes so high and overwhelming as to be embarrassing for both her opponent, a long time black female pol, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and Lightfoot herself.
Mid-way through that campaign, when it became apparent that Lightfoot would win, Preckwinkle’s team abruptly stopped airing all TV and radio commercials touting her candidacy. Still, none of Chicago’s political cognoscenti, including yours truly, even came close to predicting the utterly thorough drubbing Lightfoot unceremoniously administered to the highest ranking politician in both the City of Chicago and the County of Cook. Indeed, had this election been a sporting match, Lightfoot and her team may fairly have been accused of running up the score on a much weaker and basically outclassed team. The final score? Lightfoot: 386,039 (74%); Preckwinkle: 137,765 (26%)
Lori Lightfoot is Mayor of Chicago because she did not simply promise a sea change in Chicago’s legendary “machine” politics. Since the sudden death of Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington, in 1987, all mayoral candidates have been obligated to at least promise to “reform” Chicago’s moribund political machine. No. Lori Lightfoot won the mayor’s office because she personally embodied that promise.
By contrast, her general election opponent, Toni Preckwinkle, had served 20-plus years in the City Council and had just begun a third four-year term as Cook County Board President. The most devastating blow to Preckwinkle’s campaign occurred when it became public that she might have even tangential involvement in yet another of the City Council’s perennial corruption cases. One of her principal and heretofore most powerful backers, the Council’s Finance Committee Chairman Ed Burke, who had served as 14th Ward Alderman for 50 years, managed to finally get himself indicted by the feds for bribery and extortion just weeks before the polls were set to open.
Lightfoot, on the other hand, was an electoral neophyte. She had never run for anything at all until she convinced herself (and later most of the city) that she should be Mayor of Chicago. To be sure, for years she had practiced law at an old-line, staid, “white shoe,” Chicago law firm, and had been appointed to various government positions in the city, including that of federal prosecutor.
And it was two of those government jobs which put Lori Lightfoot on Chicago’s political map: First, her tenure as President of the Chicago Police Board, and then as Chair of a revamped Chicago Police Accountability Task Force. These appointments proved to be crucial in their impact on Lightfoot’s candidacy for mayor, for they were high profile and “sensitive” spots which gave her instant name recognition. Indeed, these jobs followed hard on the heels of a series of “sensational” police misconduct “events,” including questionable police shootings, physical and verbal assaults on obviously innocent citizens, harassment of all varieties — but especially of the “stop-and-frisk” flavor — fatal police chases, false arrests, planting evidence, “testilying” (giving false testimony) — all of which had been occurring routinely for decades, and mainly in the city’s blackest and brownest wards.
By the time the 2019 mayoral election campaign rolled around, police misbehavior was so blatant that it was causing a generalized angst, depression and fear among whole swaths of Chicago’s black and brown citizenry. The cops’ marked indifference to the concerns of their charges, together with a self-assured swagger and belief that the mayor, the courts, high ranking police officials, and especially the FOP, would back them up in any situation, contributed to a seething, simmering anger among black and brown Chicagoans. That angst, that anger, that fear threatened to explode into a full-blown racial conflagration with the very next questionable (but always self-“justified”) police shooting/killing/beating of an innocent black or brown Chicagoan.
It is not surprising, then, that Mayor Lightfoot’s first 100 days have been punctuated by fractious interactions with the police department, the selfsame police department she had so recently investigated for various and sundry incidents of wrongdoing. And the cops, through their pit bullish union, the Fraternal Order of Police, have left no doubt about their feelings for Lori Lightfoot: They hate this new mayor with a blue passion.
That hatred grows directly out of, and is a consequence of, Lightfoot’s time as Chair of the Police Accountability Task Force. There, she beat the police and their union by helping to secure a federal court-ordered consent decree against the Chicago Police Department. That decree was the result of decades of police abuse going back at least as far as the 1960s. The several federal lawsuits that were finally brought against the city to address this issue had originated in the Obama administration’s Justice Department, and have since bled over into the Trump administration.
In essence, that consent decree demanded — ordered — that Chicago cops stop mistreating black and brown citizens; that the city take proactive and, yes, affirmative steps to reduce unnecessary arrests; that cops record each time they unholster and point their gun at someone; that cops keep a detailed, written record of every traffic stop; that in addition to the city, individual cops be held personally responsible for the proper functioning of their body- and dashcams, among other things.
Since her election, Mayor Lightfoot’s insistence that the Chicago’s police department adhere to the consent decree has only deepened and intensified the FOP’s hatred of her. As chief executive officer of the city and the de facto head of the police department, this mayor has gone even further than the consent decree in order to immediately halt police abuse of Chicagoans. And, again, they don’t like it — or her. Here, in no particular order, is an abbreviated list of a few of the additional “reforms” the major has enacted. Not surprisingly, the cops, via the FOP, have denounced each and every one of these:
- The Mayor has ordered cops to cease writing traffic tickets for minor offenses. Instead, unless confronted by gross, repeated or willful violations, they are to issue more warnings for vehicle equipment failures or technical violations (expired plates and/or registration). Heretofore, these tickets often ended up costing hundreds of dollars and even loss of license, thus hampering, complicating, or ending altogether a citizen’s ability to get to work in order to earn the money to pay the tickets.
- Concomitantly, Mayor Lightfoot has ordered that use of the dreaded “boot” be sharply curtailed — you know, the so-called “Denver Boot,” a disabling clamp placed on the wheel of a vehicle and which only can be removed after several hundred dollars in fees and fines are paid. It seems that the boot was mainly being applied to vehicles parked on Chicago’s South and West Sides — the black/brown areas of the city.
- Then there is Lightfoot’s passing on of a “rumor” that cops would stage a “slow-down” over this past Memorial Day weekend in order to make the new mayor look bad.
- Chicago cops, through the FOP, are particularly exercised about the Mayor’s silence in the Jussie Smollett case. They charge a double standard because she is not calling the Cook County State’s Attorney, Kim Foxx, another black woman, on the carpet about her handling of that case. The cops stop just short of charging the Mayor with racial and/or gender bias in that, by their lights, she is tacitly supporting a fellow black woman but will not support the virtually all white, virtually all male FOP, and the overwhelmingly majority-white police force.
- And, the Mayor has ordered the cops to stop running surreptitious background checks on community activists as well as ordinary citizens who speak up at public meetings about police misconduct.
- Finally, Mayor Lightfoot was caught on an open mike during a public meeting about police reform referring to a high ranking police union official as an “FOP clown.” Even after loud and constant demands from both the local and national leadership of the FOP for an apology, the Mayor, with what looked an awful lot like a twinkle in her eye, has only seen fit to apologize for making the clown reference “out loud.”
According to the Mayor, these reforms are meant to help end the senseless killings and seemingly rampant crime in Chicago. How, you ask? How does making fewer arrests arrest crime? For years, Mayor Lightfoot has argued that Chicago cannot arrest its way out of crime. Instead, she has often spoken about eliminating the causes of crime: rampant, grinding, generational poverty; joblessness; inferior and under-resourced schools; poor and substandard housing; grossly unequal distribution of city services; income inequality, etc., etc., ad infinitum. These conditions cannot be locked away in a cell and forgotten. Rather, these are systemic, deeply rooted social, economic, and political problems that have festered for generations, even centuries. Thus, they must be eradicated systematically, structurally — at the root and if done right, no branches will grow. This current system of policing and it approach to criminal justice must be replaced with new and invigorating, life-enhancing, life-affirming policies and practices.
But the main focus of this new mayor’s reform package is development of trust between black and brown Chicago and the police department. It is difficult to trust an institution if the representatives thereof are constantly harassing you, locking you up for no good reason, or occasionally even killing you.
These are matters which will take time — years, perhaps decades — to solve. Let’s make Chicago a test case for simply “doing the right thing” by all of its citizens. We must begin somewhere and sometime. Why not Chicago and why not right now?