Lightfoot, Green blast Wilson for ‘rabbit’ remark at forum — but Wilson stands by his take on suspects

In a testy debate between nine mayoral candidates Tuesday, businessman Willie Wilson was targeted for his remark that police be allowed to hunt a suspect down “like a rabbit.”

SHARE Lightfoot, Green blast Wilson for ‘rabbit’ remark at forum — but Wilson stands by his take on suspects
Mayor Lori Lightfoot (left) on Tuesday morning, rival candidates Willie Wilson (center) earlier this month and Ja’Mal Green (right) in February 2022.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot (left) on Tuesday morning, rival candidates Willie Wilson (center) earlier this month and Ja’Mal Green (right) in February 2022.

Ashlee Rezin; Pat Nabong; Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

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Community activist Ja’Mal Green and Mayor Lori Lightfoot lit into fellow mayoral candidate Willie Wilson during a debate Tuesday night for insisting that police be allowed to hunt “people down like rabbits.”

In the most pointed exchange, Green argued that such comments reflect the mindset that led to the slaying of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Tyre Nichols, who was beaten to death by police officers in Memphis, Tennessee.

It began when Wilson was asked what constitutional policing meant to him in light of his characterization of suspects during the debate, which was hosted by WGN and moderated by Lourdes Duarte and Tahman Bradley at Steinmetz College Prep.

The millionaire businessman first made the remark at a debate last month, and he didn’t respond to the request for further explanation Tuesday night. But he said people needed to be made “safe at all costs.”

Later, during a question on vacancies in the Chicago Police Department, Green took the opportunity to offer his opinion on Wilson’s characterization of suspects.

“First, it is disgusting that we have a 70-plus-year-old man on this stage who was a share cropper from down South who would get on TV and constantly double down on hunting people down like rabbits,” Green said.

“He should know what that means and know how it feels. And when you have that mentality that Willie Wilson has, you have Tyre Nichols, you have George Floyd, you have Anjanette Young. We cannot have that in this city.”

Wilson, 74, was asked if he wanted to respond to the shot from Green.

“I don’t respond to kids,” Wilson said.

Green, 27, smiled at Wilson’s slight.

Lightfoot then joined in during her next question, saying the “rabbits” Wilson was referring to were young people in Chicago.

“First of all, Mr. Wilson, when you say that you’re going to hunt people down and allow the police … to hunt people down like rabbits, you’re talking about Black and Brown boys in our city,” Lightfoot said. “And it’s offensive. I can’t believe you continue to say it. But that is really what you’re talking about. And you have no concern for their lives, but I do. “

Wilson attempted to clarify his stance, invoking his son Omar who was murdered in 1995.

“We’re losing people every day that are getting killed due to crime,” Wilson said. “When I said a person is hunted down like a rabbit, if the person put themselves down there like animals that kill people, well, they put themselves down there.

“And if this particular mayor here ain’t done nothing about it. People still continue to kill people, and nobody gets caught. If somebody comes and kills somebody in her family, then she would know how it feels. We’re trying to protect our citizens that living by the law.

“Whether it’s Black and Brown, I don’t care. We not Black and Brown. We Black and Brown and white and Asians. We all Chicagoans.”

The testy exchange was one of the more heated points of the debate, which included all nine candidates for mayor. The forum was frequently interrupted by demonstrators shouting while Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson responded to questions.

The election is four weeks away, but if no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote on Feb. 28, the top two vote-getters will face off April 4.

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