With the city pulled apart by gun violence, public trust in the police at a “breaking point” and a “fractured” criminal justice system, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday proposed a multi-pronged solution that included everything from more cops on the street to job training to mentorship programs.
Emanuel’s speech to an invitation-only crowd at Malcolm X College included details of his master plan to address the city’s soaring crime rate that City Hall had released earlier this week: hiring nearly 1,000 additional police; investment in struggling neighborhoods and millions in funding for youth mentoring programs.
From the dais in the Malcolm X gymnasium, Emanuel peppered those points into a speech heavy on emotional anecdotes, pulled from some of the most chilling of the 500-plus murders so far in Chicago.
“When a six year-old girl playing on her porch with her family is shot, or the son of a police officer home from college on summer break is murdered on his front stoop, or an anti-violence activist is gunned down while playing video games at his friend’s house, or an Army veteran who mentors at-risk youth at the YMCA is killed in his car at night, our hearts are torn,” the mayor said.
“For all the things that make Chicago great, for all the things that make us proud to call ourselves Chicagoans, the violence that is happening corrodes our core.”
While painting a bleak picture of life in Chicago neighborhoods beset by gangs and violence — by way of calling for programs that would offer opportunity to youths who live there — Emanuel’s remarks did not include a critique of black fathers that had apparently fallen flat with African-American leaders who heard an earlier draft.
But Emanuel repeatedly argued that curing the city’s crime epidemic requires the work of every Chicagoan — not just the police.
“No matter who you are, what your background is, where you live in Chicago, this fight belongs to all of us,” the mayor said.
While hiring hundreds of new police had gotten most of the headlines ahead of the speech, Emanuel spent much of his time addressing plans for mentoring programs such as Becoming A Man, and investment in the city’s 20 most crime-plagued neighborhoods.
“Either Becoming a Man is the mentor, or the Vice Lords,” Emanuel said. “I know this about the kids of the city of Chicago, they haven’t had a choice. It’s been forced on them.
“You give the kids of Chicago a good positive moral choice where they can have a future, or a negative one, our kids will pick the positive, good one.”
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The speech had been much hyped by an administration that has been dogged in Emanuel’s second term by both by protests against police shootings and a stubbornly rising murder rate.
But Emanuel did not elaborate on a funding source for new police officers — estimated at $134 million in just the first year of a two-year hiring push — though he said the city had raised half the money needed to provide mentoring for eighth, ninth and tenth-graders in Chicago’s 20 most dangerous neighborhoods, with donations coming from Exelon, Peoples Gas and sandwich chain owner Jimmy John Liautaud.
The Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday reported Emanuel’s plans for a two-year hiring blitz intended to add 970 officers, the biggest hiring surge at the department since the mid-1980s.
The recruiting surge was a reversal — or perhaps a re-reversal — for Emanuel, who campaigned for his first term on a pledge to add 1,000 officers, then shifted the goal to putting 1,000 officers “on the street” by dissolving special tactical units and shifting officers off desk jobs and onto patrol. In his run for a second term, Emanuel mocked rival Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s campaign promise to add 1,000 officers, calling the proposal “fairy dust” and warning that there was no money to pay for that many new officers.
But his second term has seen Emanuel confronting a restive city, after the release late last year of video of a police officer firing 16 shots into teenager Laquan McDonald. Almost in tandem with protests over police shootings, violent crime rose citywide. The city has seen more than 3,000 people shot so far in 2016, and is on pace to record more than 600 murders for the first time in more than a decade.
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Emanuel devoted some time in the speech to acknowledging the breach in trust between residents and the police force in the wake of the McDonald video, and the tensions that have marred attempts to tamp down crime over the last 12 months.
“Fighting crime requires a partnership between the police and the community, and we all know that this partnership has been tested in Chicago,” he said. “It is a problem that has festered in this city for decades. The shooting of Laquan McDonald brought it to the breaking point.”
“There can be no permission slip for people taunting police officers trying to solve a crime in their community. And there can be no pass for officers belittling a citizen who has turned to them for help.”
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) said the speech showed Emanuel had “been listening” to constituents in recent months, noting that the mayor choked up during his speech.
“I thought it was very moving,” Burnett said, saying the plan’s emphasis on finding jobs and mentors for residents, and not just adding cops, showed a change in the crime-fighting strategy.
“It shows he’s really understanding the heart of the community,” Burnett said.
Joseph Kyles of The Promise Church, said he was pleased to hear that economic development and youth programs were getting attention from the mayor.
“If it gets implemented and is done properly, like he said, it absolutely will work to bring down the crime,” Kyles said.