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Preckwinkle, Lightfoot discuss policing, education at Malcolm X College forum

An audience watches Toni Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot at a mayoral forum Tuesday evening at Malcom X College. | Nader Issa

Racial inequities are at the heart of the city’s street violence and the failure of neighborhood public schools in the city’s low-income communities, Chicago’s two mayoral candidates say.

But while Toni Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot agree about the cause of those issues, their solutions aren’t exactly the same.

Preckwinkle, the president of the Cook County Board, said at a forum Tuesday evening at Malcolm X College that the only way to address gun violence is to build relationships between police and the communities they serve.

“Everyone has the right to feel safe in their home and in their community,” Preckwinkle said. “We need to work to ensure that people are willing to collaborate with police to address the violence that’s taking place … We really need to invest in community policing.”

Preckwinkle said building that relationship in communities hard-hit by violence starts with focusing on high unemployment, under-resourced schools, food deserts and mental health.

Lightfoot, the former police board president, said officers should be taught about the history of the neighborhoods in which they work, she said.

“We need to do more, frankly, than send our officers to the DuSable Museum,” Lightfoot said, referring to the city’s African-American history museum. “We have to deal with the practical problem of race and policing.”

On the topic of educational disparities, Lightfoot said rebuilding neighborhood schools and improving early-childhood education programs are most important.

Preckwinkle, meanwhile, said kids falling behind early in school typically end up on the pipeline to prison.

“You can pretty much predict the performance in our public schools by Zip code, and that’s a tragedy,” Preckwinkle said. “Nationally, they predict prison populations on the basis of third-grade achievement. So people who are falling behind in third-grade are more likely to end up in our criminal justice system, and we have to address that challenge.”

Among those in attendance at the Near West Side college was former Obama education secretary Arne Duncan, who spoke at the end of the forum and urged the audience to vote.

Duncan also noted the history surrounding the election.

“Please vote. It’s so easy for us to critique, it’s so easy for us to throw stones. We have to step up,” Duncan said. “This is a historic election. Whoever wins, we’re going to have for the first time in Chicago’s history, a strong black woman leading this city.”