Mayor Lori Lightfoot vowed Tuesday to confront the never-ending cycle of gang violence fueling the spike in shootings and homicides by focusing “like a laser beam” on providing opportunity for young people “lost” and “desperate,” in neighborhoods plagued by disinvestment.
One day after summoning Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson and his entire leadership team to a City Hall meeting on what she called “Accountability Monday,” Lightfoot acknowledged the bloody Chicago weekend that saw 10 people killed and 52 shot was “not a police-only problem.”
It’s about lost and disconnected youth — most of them 16-to-24-year-old men — who are neither working nor in school and are, therefore, at risk of becoming crime victims — or perpetrators.
“These are young people who are lost. These are young people who are living in circumstances where, we can understand why they’d be desperate. They’re living in neighborhoods where there are virtually no resources. No economic activity. In many instances, no schools. Very little in the way of parks, grocery stores — all the things we take for granted,” she said.
“These young people are growing up without … having a realistic opportunity to connect up with legitimate jobs in a legitimate economy and be able to build a future. This isn’t a policing issue. This is a lack of investment by the city over decades with deliberate decisions that have made winners and losers and a lot of these folks on the South and West Side have been discarded. We have to change that trajectory fundamentally.”
Lightfoot acknowledged that the city “has to do much more” to connect with that lost generation.
“We’re thinking about and bringing other people to the table to talk about how we reach that cohort of young people, some of whom are in school, some of whom are in juvenile detention, some of whom are out on the street,” she said.
“If we can make significant progress with that cohort, particularly on the West Side, we will see a dramatic change in our violence numbers going forward. But this is work that should have been started a long time ago. And we’re behind the curve. But we’re gonna be focused like a laser beam on doing everything we can, starting last week to really focus on that cohort going forward.”
Lightfoot’s claim that Chicago was “behind the curve” in confronting the issue of disconnected youth is not entirely true.
Four years ago, now former Mayor Rahm Emanuel used his second inaugural address to launch a citywide campaign aimed at preventing,what he called “another lost generation of our city’s youth.”
He talked about mentoring programs like One Summer Chicago, After School Matters and Becoming A Man, aimed at giving a sense of values, purpose and hope to young men “born into poverty” and broken homes who have been “on their own from early on.”
“Many of them drop out of school and are jobless…Many of them lack the spark of hope in their eyes that we would never accept in our own children…The faces of these lost and unconnected young men are often invisible—until we see them in a mug shot as the victim or the perpetrator of a senseless crime,” Emanuel said then.
“Their existence is avoided—rather than confronted. They live in the shadows of our cities and in the recesses of our minds. But, we must make them ever-present in our conversation…The question for all of us is how to provide these young men and women with a sense of godliness, a sense of purpose, a sense of their potential.”
After that, Emanuel made summer jobs, after-school and mentoring programs a crusade. He bolstered all three of those programs at a time when the state and federal governments were retreating.
As for Accountability Monday, Lightfoot said she believes the message got through to police brass.
“As you might imagine, I asked very tough questions. I got a detailed report of what happened over the course of the seven days from last Memorial Day to yesterday. I said to folks, `If you don’t want to be in this room and you feel uncomfortable, then do your job,’ “ the mayor said.
“It’s not my intention to micro-manage the Police Department. But, I have a responsibility to hold them accountable. And the level of violence that we saw in the last week is just fundamentally unacceptable.”