5 mayoral hopefuls discuss community-based answers to gun violence at forum on youth

Good Kids Mad City leaders press candidates on the Peace Book Ordinance, which would divert 2% of police funding to youth-led anti-violence programs in neighborhoods.

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Chicago mayoral candidates Ald. Sophia King (4th), Cook County Board Commissioner Brandon Johnson, Illinois State Rep. Kim Buckner, Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Ja’Mal Green join activists from Good Kids, Mad City and Northwestern Students and community members for a Good Kids, Mad City mayoral forum at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023.

Ald. Sophia King, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, state Rep. Kam Buckner, Ald. Roderick Sawyer and activist Ja’Mal Green attend a forum hosted by youth group Good Kids Mad City at Northwestern University’s campus on the Near North Side.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

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Chicago youth group Good Kids Mad City hosted a mayoral forum Wednesday to discuss issues important to the city’s younger population on the South and West sides, including how to stop gun violence.

Five of the nine candidates participated in the event, which was held at Northwestern University’s law school campus on the Near North Side.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, businessman Willie Wilson, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas and U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia did not attend.

The discussion was mostly centered on the Peace Book Ordinance — which calls for diverting 2% of the Chicago Police Department’s $1.7 billion budget to bankroll programs led by young people in Chicago neighborhoods plagued by gun violence.

It was introduced at a City Council meeting last summer by Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) and Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) on behalf of Good Kids Mad City, the driving force behind the idea.

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State Rep. Kam Buckner was asked whether he continued to support community policing after the death of Tyre Nichols, who was beaten by members of a Memphis police gang unit.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Young people affected by gun violence spoke to candidates at the forum about their experiences and how community-based organizations have helped them.

All of the candidates in attendance have said they support the ordinance, but audience members pressed them on specific elements of their public safety proposals and how they could affect young people.

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Ald. Sophia King (4th) was asked by activist Kina Collins to clarify her plan on expanding the use of drones in police pursuits. Collins called the proposal “dangerous” for Black communities.

“Use that as a tool to chase, or take a picture, instead of helicopters. We can put five or seven in every district, instead of helicopters,” King said. “It would bring more safety than chasing. This is not something like military zones.”

Collins countered that drones have been proven to discriminate against Black and brown communities. She asked King to reconsider her position.

State Rep. Kam Buckner was asked if he still backed expanding community policing after the death of Tyre Nichols, who was beaten by members of the Memphis police department’s Scorpion Unit, a specialized street crime team that patrolled crime hot spots.

Buckner said his plan wasn’t about adding more police officers, but rather giving more resources to the community so it can police itself.

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Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson told the audience that the community must step up to help advocate with elected leaders for the Peace Book Ordinance and other legislation.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

“It’s about making sure we have mental health providers and resources to show up when things happen,” Buckner said. “I’ve also talked a lot about making sure we put money with the community organizations who are doing the work on the ground to stop violence.”

The candidates also expressed support for establishing a youth commission at City Hall that would advise the mayor on issues affecting young people. Members would be paid and come from the South and West sides of the city.

“It has to be independent so that young people have a voice and can be able to hold accountable the mayor, and the mayor is not able to just fire them,” said activist Ja’Mal Green.

When candidates were asked what they could do to be held accountable by the community if the Peace Book plan isn’t adopted, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson said accountability “goes both ways.”

“You got to keep organizing. Look, I’m going to give you my commitment much like I’ve done as a teacher, organizer and Cook County commissioner,” Johnson said. “When we are struggling in our capacities to get the necessary votes that are needed to secure the resources, we are going to need you to step in and help advocate.”

Sawyer said the key is making sure there is constant communication with young people.

“We should make sure as Black people that Black people are actively taken care of,” Sawyer said. “Making sure that we are talking to you constantly, making sure that we are responding to your needs.”

Early voting is already underway for Tuesday’s election.

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Mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green expressed support for a youth commission at City Hall but said it would have to be independent and have the power to hold the mayor accountable.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

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