Community leaders gave Mayor Rahm Emanuel credit for taking steps toward addressing the city’s gun violence epidemic — but some said he is relying too much on hiring cops, rather than addressing police behavior or investing in neighborhoods.
In the Thursday night speech before an invitation-only audience at Malcolm X College, Emanuel introduced a multi-pronged solution that included promises of more police and programs to provide young people jobs and role models.
“[The speech] was direct, it was emotional, it was needed,” said Carlton Nichols, staff operations manager for City Year. “He talked about accountability. We all have to be accountable: the community, the police, the groups that are doing the [youth] programs. It was a balanced message.”
But some said the mayor needed to do more.
“We have called for many years for the Emanuel administration to bolster the police force — but we have also been clear that we can’t solve this problem through policing alone,” Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22nd), a member of the Progressive Caucus, said in a statement. “Until we spend as much energy and money investing in our schools and neighborhoods, and in creating jobs to give people a path away from gang life, we won’t see significant change.”
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. said what is needed is a reconstruction plan that creates jobs for the economically distressed communities currently plagued by a rise in violence.
“We need jobs,” the civil rights leader said. “There must be a comprehensive solution that creates jobs for these communities. More police is not the answer to this problem because the root cause of violence is poverty and the lack of access to economic opportunities.”
Trina Reynolds-Tyler, communications co-chair of the Black Youth Project 100 Chicago Chapter, said the residents of Chicago do not want more police officers in their neighborhoods.
“I believe that he knows he has to say something about investing in our communities, and he’s pacifying the people. More police officers do not fix the root of the cause of the violence in our neighborhoods,” she said.
Instead of funding a two-year plan to hire 970 additional police officers, Reynolds-Tyler said the money should go toward neighborhood investment.
“People need mental health facilities, rehabilitation centers, more produce in the neighborhoods. Having a mentoring program is a step in the right direction, but I don’t think the city of Chicago needs more police officers. All that money should go toward the neighborhoods.”
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Shari Runner, president of the Chicago Urban League, also said Emanuel focused too much on the Chicago Police Department.
“We’re recognizing that the violence is not the fault of the communities and a lot of issues need to be addressed,” she said. “Some things were overplayed, like his emphasis on policing. There was a lack of emphasis on education which is concerning because that’s the pipeline to the future.”
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) questioned how the administration plans to change police culture.
“The underlying issues of department culture that led to incidents like the murder of Laquan McDonald and the subsequent cover-up must be meaningfully addressed,” she said in a statement. “If they are not, we fear that those serious and sometimes deadly problems will be reinforced in the new group of recruits.”
Frank Chapman, education director and field organizer of Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, said investment in the police department is pointless if officers aren’t being held accountable for their actions.
“He has completely undermined his ability to lead based on his actions in the Laquan McDonald case,” he said. “We need legislation that’s going to hold the police accountable and that way we can restore justice here. The only way we’re going to find a solution is when the people are brought to the table.”
Andre M. Grant, professor of criminal justice at Chicago State University and former president of the Cook County Bar Association, doubted the mayor’s authenticity.
“The man said a lot of things, but he’s not sincere,” he said. “The most important thing is that these young people need jobs and an education. We don’t need more police and we don’t need to live in a police state. He closed schools and fired teachers when he could have invested in them.”
Also, Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) questioned how the administration plans to pay for the bolstering of the police department.
“We need to know exactly where the more than $138 million for the hires is going to come from — not to mention the funding for the new public safety inspector general’s office and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability,” she said. “As stewards of Chicagoans tax dollars, we can’t simply write a blank check. The Emanuel administration can’t just say ‘trust me’ anymore. It must show us the money.”
But others gave Emanuel high marks.
Kentrell Creaner, 18, senior at Orr Academy and leader in the Becoming A Man (BAM) program, who was an invited guest at Emanuel’s speech at Malcolm X, credited the mayor for his support.
“I’m glad they’re supporting Becoming A Man. At first, when I did (BAM) it was just something to keep me off the streets, stay out of trouble. But they made me see my short-term and long-term goals … Next year, I’m going to college.”
Joseph Kyles, pastor, The Promise Church of Chicago, said: “I was pleased to hear about the neighborhood programs, revitalizing some of the retail in neighborhoods. I wouldn’t say I’m confident, but I’m hopeful.”