Chicago needs leaders, not elected officials looking for scapegoats

Our city’s official response to looting and violent crime has been anything but organized. There has been a lack of teamwork, and we’re paying the price.

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Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx (left) and Mayor Lori Lightfoot (right) respond to questions regarding a police shootout and looting that ensued during individual press conferences on Monday.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia & Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Hundreds of people swooped into Chicago’s downtown area on Sunday night into Monday morning to smash in store windows and loot, seemingly out of nowhere, and the obvious question is whether this was premeditated and organized.

Who first tweeted — inaccurately — that police in the Englewood neighborhood had shot an unarmed 15-year-old boy in the face? What was the tweeter’s purpose? Who first urged young people, again via social media, to jump into cars and drive downtown? What was the intent? Who brought in that U-Haul truck into which looters threw stolen goods?

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If there was a design behind the mayhem, let’s find out. Let’s make arrests. When a city is a tinderbox, there’s no room for people who light matches.

What we can say for sure, though, is that Chicago’s official response to the looting and property destruction, as well as to two shootings and months of escalating gun violence, has been anything but organized. There has been an utter lack of teamwork, and our city is paying the price.

Two press conferences

Why, quite simply, did Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx hold dueling press conferences on Monday? Why did they not stand side-by-side on the same stage?

The sun was barely up and storekeepers along Michigan Avenue were just beginning to sweep up the broken glass when Lightfoot held a press conference to deplore the looting, promise a tough police response — and blame Foxx.

The looters on Sunday, she and Police Supt. David Brown said, were emboldened by the failure of Foxx’s prosecutors to take earlier arrests for looting seriously.

Because looters arrested back in May and June were not “prosecuted to the fullest extent,” Brown said, looters today “act like there are no consequences of their behavior.”

At a separate press conference later, Foxx shot back that Lightfoot and Brown had their facts all wrong, having lumped together looters and peaceful protesters.

“I understand the superintendent’s and the mayor’s frustration. I share their frustration,” Foxx said. “Looters have been charged and are awaiting trial. Peaceful protesters have not had their cases pursued.”

Foxx complained about “dishonest blame games” and accused Lightfoot of seizing on an “overly simplistic answer” to a complex problem.

Leaders, not scapegoats

Chicago needs leaders, not elected officials looking for scapegoats. It’s not hard to make a case that every branch of the local criminal justice system — the police, the state’s attorney’s office, the sheriff’s office and the courts — is in part to blame for the city’s failure to curb violent crime rates and the kind of chaos we witnessed this weekend.

But the underlying conditions driving Chicago’s crime and unrest, from the impact of the pandemic to long-standing problems of economic and racial injustice to a palpable distrust of the police, are not about to disappear any time soon. Chicago needs leaders who are willing to sit down together, hash out their personal and philosophical differences and do a better job of working together.

For an example of how that might work for the betterment of Chicago, consider the Justice Department’s recent creation of a task force to assist the city’s police in prosecuting gun crimes. The initiative, Operation Legend, has resulted in a surge of new gun cases being filed in federal court in Chicago over the past two weeks.

The number of federal gun cases filed in June, July and early August total about the same as for January, February, March, April and May combined, the Sun-Times reported late last week, though the coronavirus pandemic slowed federal prosecutions in Chicago early on.

Try working together

When a reporter asked Lightfoot on Monday to elaborate on her point that the state’s attorney’s office and courts must do more to hold criminals accountable, she accused the reporter of trying to pit the relevant elected officials — Foxx, Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans and her — against each other.

“Don’t bait us,” she said.

But nobody was baiting anybody. The reporter’s question was an excellent one.

If Lightfoot thinks Foxx and Evans could be doing better — and that was her pointed message on Monday — then she’s obligated to explain, in detail, where they’ve gone wrong and how to improve.

Better yet, Lightfoot might want to invite Foxx and Evans to her next press conference, everybody working together.

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