Playing the blame game won’t end Chicago’s deadly violence

More than 100 people were shot over the weekend. If the problem boils down to bad people being sprung from jail too easily, show us the proof.

SHARE Playing the blame game won’t end Chicago’s deadly violence
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Chicago Police Supt. David Brown

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

If Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Supt. David Brown are right in blaming last weekend’s surge of deadly violence on “violent felons” being released from jail too easily, let’s see the proof.

More than 100 people were shot over the weekend. Children were murdered. Show us the evidence that any significant number of the killers, or even a few, had recently been sprung from jail. Make the case, one bad guy at a time, for why they should not have been released.

Because if Cook County’s ongoing efforts to reduce the county jail’s population are to blame, even in part, for the increase in violence in Chicago this year, we sure want to know. That’s something lawmakers could end immediately.

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But if Lightfoot and Brown can’t produce the evidence, then we’d have to say they’re blowing smoke. They’re attempting to shift responsibility away from the city and the cops to the county and the courts.

And, in doing so, they are undermining public confidence in a social justice reform — reducing the jail’s population without unduly compromising public safety — that has taken a decade to achieve.

‘Gangs, guns and drugs’

Asked by reporters on Monday to explain the causes of the weekend’s violence, Brown said, “Gangs, guns and drugs — and not enough time spent in jail for violent felons.”

“There are too many violent offenders not in jail or on electronic monitoring, which no one is really monitoring,” the superintendent continued. “We need violent felons to stay in jail longer and we need improvements to the home monitoring system.”

How did Brown know this to be true? From, he replied, his years in law enforcement.

Sorry, but that doesn’t cut it.

As best we can see, reducing the population of Cook County Jail over the last 10 years has not correlated with a surge in violent crime.

While the number of jail inmates has been reduced from almost 10,000 in 2010 to about 4,500 today, crime rates have jerked both up and down. Until this year, homicides in Chicago had, in fact, been on the decline for three straight years.

This annual decline, clearly coming to an end now, occurred even after Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans in 2017 imposed an order aggressively reducing the use and amount of cash bail.

Defendants deemed to be a danger to the public are still held without bail. But many more other defendants — deemed not to be a danger but too poor to make bail — are released on a reduced bail, or on no bail at all.

These are people, we should stress, who have been charged with crimes but not had their day in court. They are awaiting trial. To deny them their liberty pre-trial should be acceptable only if they pose a clear danger to society or likely would not show up for trial.

Lightfoot’s summer rerun

When Brown blamed the weekend’s violence on criminals being released too easily from jail, he was running an old play from the mayor’s playbook. Last summer, former Supt. Eddie Johnson made the same accusation, repeatedly, with the same lack of proof.

It’s a destructive narrative that should be proven or dropped.

We can think of plenty of other explanations for the increase in violent crime in Chicago this summer, including a tired and demoralized police force in these days of anti-cop protests. Brown also may be onto something when he contends that the electronic monitoring system is not dependable enough. Yet, there again, Brown has not cited a single case of somebody on electronic monitoring being involved in last weekend’s shootings.

If so, please tell the public. Chicagoans have a right to know.

End the sniping

What matters most, though, is that the sniping among the various agencies of criminal justice in Cook County, which goes back at least to last year’s mayoral election, must end. If there are fundamental disagreements about what works best, sit down and figure it out.

Lightfoot has said she will convene a meeting later this week with other leaders in the county’s criminal justice system, including the state’s attorney’s office and the courts. That meeting can’t happen soon enough.

We’ve been thinking all day about Mekhi James, a 3-year-old boy who was shot and killed in Austin on Saturday evening.

He never got a chance to read a book or ride a bike or fall in love.

What is Chicago going to do about that?

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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