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Influential alderman outraged, not surprised by weekend bloodbath

Ald. Chris Taliaferro, a former Chicago police officer, said during the stay-home order, crime and drug sales decreased. But as the economy reopens, that includes drug dealers, too.

Police on the scene in Chicago Lawn Monday, where a 3-year-old girl was grazed by a bullet in the 6500 block of South Claremont Avenue.
Police on the scene in Chicago Lawn Monday, where a 3-year-old girl was grazed by a bullet in the 6500 block of South Claremont Avenue.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

An influential alderman said Tuesday he was outraged but not surprised by the Father’s Day weekend violence that continued Monday because drug dealers who dominate Chicago’s illegitimate economy are just as desperate to reopen as legitimate businesses.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) is the former Chicago police officer now chairing the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety. He represents a West Side ward that includes the Austin police district, where 3-year-old Mekhi James and 13-year-old Amaria Jones were shot and killed.

On Tuesday, Taliaferro was painfully honest about the outbreak of violence that left 104 people shot and 14 of them dead over Juneteenth/Father’s Day weekend and continued Monday with 41 more people shot, six fatally.

“We have increased gang activity and increased drug sales because a lot of folks have been sitting in the house for two-and-a-half months. We were [also] sheltered in place over the winter months. Once it gets warm, it’s like the flood gates are open. … You’re gonna have increased presence on the street. You’re gonna have increased drug activity. You’re gonna have increased gang activity. It’s just going to happen. And I expected that. Especially with the shelter-in-place being lifted going into the summer months,” Taliaferro said.

“During the time that we were sheltered, there was a serious decrease in crime, a serious decrease in drug sales. Well, guess what? We’re opening our businesses why? Because we have to make money as a city. We have to get the economy rolling. And so do they. They have to open their business, too. They have to get their drug flow money in. It’s not different. It’s a street business.”

Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown responded to the year’s most violent weekend by blaming “too many violent offenders not in jail or on electronic monitoring which no one is really monitoring.”

Taliaferro has other ideas.

He wants to resurrect “Operation Impact Zone,” a program pioneered by former CPD Supt. Garry McCarthy and abandoned when McCarthy was fired and replaced by Interim Supt. John Escalante.

It called for putting young officers on foot patrol in high-crime areas.

“I served as a supervisor in one of the impact zones. I would have approximately 16 people a day. They had two cars, but patrolled on foot mostly within a very small geographic area. They did it for the entire watch and it made a difference. We had zero shootings during the time when my men were out there in that impact zone,” Taliaferro said.

Chicago police investigate the scene Thursday where two people were shot, including a 5-year-old child, in the 700 block of West 50th Place.
Chicago police investigate the scene Thursday where two people were shot, including a 5-year-old child, in the 700 block of West 50th Place.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The chairman recalled Escalante disbanded the program on grounds that it was a bad fit for young officers who needed more experience before being thrown into the fire. Taliaferro made the opposite argument. Youth was the program’s strength.

“You had young officers who were willing to take action, even on minor offenses [when] veteran officers aren’t,” the chairman said.

“Minor offenses oftentimes lead to poor quality of life in a community. But they also lead to bigger crimes. These young officers were put in these impact zones to look at the … the guy standing on the corners. And it was a successful program. Anyone associated with it will tell you that. District commanders will tell you that.”

Taliaferro also complained the city is spending too much of its violence prevention money on the wrong groups.

“There’s a difference in the effectiveness of a street-level organization as compared to a corporate organization. We’re putting funds in the hands of corporate organizations right now. The ones in my ward — I barely see them, yet they’re getting a lot of dollars from the city,” he said.

“We have organizations like BUILD with employees that have the experiences of many of these gang members. They know them by name. They can go talk to them. Those are the types of organizations that need to be funded. BUILD has received funds from the city. But we also have Stop the Violence in my ward ... a street-level organization that knows these gang members and speaks to them day-in-and day-out. But Stop the Violence has never received any money.”

BUILD was started in 1969; it stands for Broader Urban Involvement and Leadership Development.

It’s not the first time that Taliaferro has offered some sage advice to Brown, the retired Dallas police chief who came to Chicago two months ago.

When 10 people were killed and 39 others shot and wounded over Memorial Day weekend, Taliaferro said Brown had failed his first major test as superintendent because he was more concerned with cutting overtime than fighting violence and failed to share his Memorial Day weekend plans with local leaders.