clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Lightfoot: Memorial Day weekend’s violent ‘bloodbath’ was a ‘fail’ by city’s new top cop

“People are feeling restless after being cooped up for weeks,” Chicago Police Supt. David Brown said of crowds that gathered on the South and West sides.

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown
Chicago Police Supt. David Brown
AP Photos

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday condemned the “out of control” violence that turned Memorial Day weekend into a “bloodbath” and held David Brown, her new CPD superintendent, personally responsible.

“We have to do better. We cannot have weekends in the summer turn into a bloodbath. And this weekend’s violence was out of control,” Lightfoot said.

“While I know that there was a lot of energy and coordination among a variety of groups, what I said to the superintendent this morning is, ‘This was a fail. Whatever the strategy is, it didn’t work.’”

Hours before the mayor’s news conference, Brown blamed cabin fever created by the statewide stay-at-home order for the bloodbath over a long holiday weekend that marks the traditional start of summer.

“The stay-at-home order did little to prevent violence, particularly in parts of the West and South sides,” Brown said Tuesday. “These incidents primarily involved disputes between rival gang factions as well as clashes involving the sale of illegal drugs.”

Police issued about 300 dispersal orders to crowds each day of the holiday weekend, Brown said. The crowding brings increased risk of virus transmission, as well as injury or death, should gunfire erupt in a congested area, he said.

“The effects of the coronavirus also go beyond hospitalizations. People are feeling restless after being cooped up for weeks,” Brown said.

As for Lightfoot’s scathing review, CPD spokesman Tom Ahern replied: “As Superintendent Brown stressed, the violence we saw this weekend was unacceptable. From what we learned this weekend, we will continue to adjust how CPD deploys its resources.”

In a morning news conference, Brown acknowledged a cutback in officers working overtime shifts to patrol the streets over the Memorial Day weekend. Normally, that number is well over 1,000. Instead, “We had several hundred that were dedicated [to weekend street patrol] and coordinated a little bit better,” he said.

In her afternoon news conference, Lightfoot blamed disgruntled cops upset about cuts in police overtime for spreading a false rumor that there were 1,000 fewer police officers on the street. But she also contradicted Brown, saying “In fact, there were more officers on the street this weekend” than in prior years.

Brown did cite one crimefighting victory, though: A total of 216 guns were recovered over the weekend, 68 more than last year, with 86 people arrested for gun offenses, he said.

“This was a challenging weekend, but we are not shaken. We are not going to give up on our city. Our officers are brave, courageous, dedicated men and women who are risking their lives both with exposure to COVID and confronting violent offenders,” Brown said.

He noted more officers will be on the streets over summer weekends, including in prominent spots like on the CTA and along the lakefront.

Chief of Operations Fred Waller said police are implementing a “corridor strategy” that will place cops at highly visible locations on main streets around the city this summer.

“The idea is that would-be offenders will see marked CPD vehicles as they enter a residential area and think twice,” Waller said. “If offenders go through with a criminal act, our officers will be there waiting for them as they attempt to flee.”

Lightfoot’s brutal characterization of Brown’s Memorial Day weekend strategy marks the first time she has called out her hand-picked superintendent since the retired Dallas police chief was hired.

Brown was Lightfoot’s choice from the moment she fired former Supt. Eddie Johnson. How Brown handles Chicago’s intransigent problems of gang and gun violence — and repairs trust between citizens and police in the African-American community shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald — will go a long way towards determining whether she gets re-elected.

After ripping Brown’s performance over the holiday weekend, the mayor tried to cut the new superintendent some slack.

She reiterated that the law enforcement “infrastructure” of courts, jails, and prosecutors has essentially been missing during the pandemic, leaving the Chicago Police Department “on its own” to fight crime.

“Federal agents … have been on the sidelines for weeks. That’s a problem. We have the courts that really aren’t taking a lot of criminal cases. That’s a problem. We have the jails that are effectively closed to new persons. So we have officers risking life and limb and arresting people who are absolute drivers of violence and they’re cycling in and out of the.. court system in 24-to-48 hours,” the mayor said.

“There is no circumstance like the one we are facing right now when it comes to public safety. … The only way we start to … drive down the numbers ... is if all the other parts of the eco-system come back on line. We can’t do this alone solely with the resources of the Chicago Police Department. … We’re seeing a surge which is absolutely unfortunate and unacceptable. But it’s not surprising, given that the eco-system isn’t fully operational.”

Lightfoot also called “fundementally untrue” a Twitter claim by Chance the Rapper that Chicago Police have been more aggressive in enforcing the stay-at-home order in African-American neighborhoods than they have in predominantly white neighborhoods.

Lightfoot said she starts her day looking at two pivotal numbers — overnight violence and police dispersal orders.

“I can tell you, based upon the statistics we’ve been keeping now for weeks, those dispersal orders are happening all over the city. Yes, in white areas, in Latinx areas, in monied areas of the city,” she said.

“Why the media doesn’t report that with equal interest — well, I think there’s probably some answers to that. But the reality is that the Chicago Police Department is active and engaged all over the city and doing it with an eye toward equity. And I would have it no other way as mayor of this city.”