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Lightfoot accused of abandoning the police reform she championed by derailing City Council showdown on civilian police review

The mayor plans to introduce her own ordinance that would empower her to break disputes whenever she and the civilian commission disagree on proposed changes to police policy.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks during the opening of the Chatham Education and Workforce Center in the Chatham neighborhood.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot was accused Friday of abandoning the police reform she championed by derailing — yet again — a City Council showdown on the issue of civilian police review.

Earlier this week, the chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee postponed Friday’s meeting to give the mayor time to introduce a substitute ordinance that, among other things, would empower the mayor to break disputes whenever she and the commission disagree on proposed changes to police policy.

Lightfoot has also objected to empowering the civilian board to take an advisory vote of no-confidence in the police superintendent that would trigger the superintendent’s firing if it’s followed by a two-thirds vote by the City Council.

On Friday, two groups that have long pushed dramatically different versions of civilian police review turned up the heat on the mayor by saying they are working together with support from 40 of Chicago’s 50 aldermen.

With only “one-and-a-half sticking points” remaining between them, the Grassroots Alliance for the Police Accountability and the Civilian Police Accountability Council hope to forge a compromise that includes those pivotal policy-making powers.

“Our coalition now is in lockstep agreement that policy should be in the hands of the people. We’re consistent with that, and we’re not backing from that. That’s where the biggest sticking point is. And that’s where our line is drawn with the sand,” Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), City Council champion of the GAPA ordinance, told a virtual news conference.

“We stand with CPAC together in unity to state that … important policy decisions — if there is a disagreement — the end-all, be-all is going to be with that commission.”

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), chief proponent of the CPAC ordinance, said, “We know what civilian oversight needs to look like. It needs to empower our communities to have a say over police policy, and to play a role in hiring and firing the superintendent and overseeing police misconduct investigations.”

As a former police board president who co-chaired the Task Force on Police Accountability, Lightfoot demanded that then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel empower a civilian oversight board to fire the police superintendent and establish police policy. She promised to deliver that commission within her first 100 days in office.

Jazmine Salas, of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, said Chicago remains the nation’s “only major city that has not passed a police accountability” ordinance.

“Mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered the raising of the bridges downtown and enabled the police violence we saw inflicted on protesters. Mayor Lori Lightfoot attempted to cover up the botched raid of Anjanette Young’s residence. Mayor Lori Lightfoot just spent more than $280 million of discretionary federal funds for COVID relief on the police,” Salas said.

“This is not just a broken promise. … This is complicity in police abuses toward Black and Brown Chicagoans. This is our mayor being a cop.”

Carlil Pittman, co-founder of GoodKids MadCity, said GAPA and CPAC are united in their demand for “change and an end to a system that continues to allow our communities to be victimized by police.”

“We are furious that the mayor continues to throw her power around in ways that are not for the people but instead for her own interests. We will not stand for anything the mayor introduces, and we demand that the City Council does not support it either,” he said.

Lightfoot said she has every intention of delivering on her promise of civilian police review.

“Civilian oversight is something that I started the conversation in this city about almost five years ago,” the mayor said at an unrelated news conference.

“We will put together a proposal. We’ve been doing a lot of listening from all sides.”

Asked how her proposal would differ from the two already out there, she said, “You’ll have to wait and see.”

Lightfoot offered no apologies for her decision to use $281 million in federal coronavirus relief money on police personnel costs. She called the raging political debate about that spending “just dumb” and a “total head-scratcher.”

“The federal government came to cities like Chicago and said, `We will provide you with reimbursable funds for monies spent in response to COVID-19.’ So we saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by saying yes to the federal government,” she said, hours before the City Council’s Budget Committee signed off on the spending.

“Should we have said ‘No. … we’ll incur this expense. We’ll put this burden entirely on city of Chicago taxpayers, and you can take your money elsewhere.’ That would be foolish. Of course, we didn’t do that.”