Finally “unshackled” from the traditions of the office he led for more than three years, Zachary Fardon had a lot to say after his tenure as Chicago’s U.S. attorney came to an abrupt end Monday.
He wrote it all down in a five-page “open letter” and signed his name. And having made most of his headlines prosecuting corrupt politicians and wannabe terrorists, Citizen Fardon had only one thing to talk about: Violence in Chicago, and his “Top 5” suggestions for bringing the city “to a better place.”
The letter amounted to Fardon’s parting thoughts as he handed the baton off to Joel Levin, who became Chicago’s acting U.S. attorney following Fardon’s resignation Monday. Levin, who served as Chicago’s second-ranking federal prosecutor since 2014, will lead the office during the search for Fardon’s successor.
The turnover comes after Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week asked 46 United States attorneys appointed during the previous presidential administration to resign. Fardon was one of them. It’s not clear what Fardon will do next. But in his letter he noted, “I have no interest in political office.”
Fardon’s 41 months as U.S. attorney will always be remembered for the prosecution of former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert. But Levin will now face the same gun violence issue that has always haunted Fardon, who became U.S. attorney nine months after the January 2013 shooting death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton. Fardon wrote that he was “horrified and confused” by Pendleton’s death, and he gave violent crime his “greatest attention.” Still, his letter makes clear the issue confounded and frustrated him, despite his best efforts.
“At no moment during those three and a half years did the gun violence abate,” Fardon wrote. “Every month, every year, innocents died, kids died.”
Fardon’s letter echoed much of what he’s said in previous public remarks. He wrote that a tipping point for the city came around January 2016, after the public release of the video that depicted a Chicago police officer shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times. That was followed by the firing of former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and the announcement of an investigation into CPD by the Department of Justice’s civil rights division.
At the same time, a contract began between CPD and the ACLU that required cops to fill out lengthy contact cards for every street encounter.
“So cops stopped making stops,” Fardon wrote. “And kids started shooting more — because they could, and because the rule of law, law enforcement, had been delegitimized. And that created an atmosphere of chaos.”
City Hall agreed in January to work with the Justice Department toward a consent decree that would ensure reforms at CPD. Fardon wrote that a consent decree is essential, noting that “for decades, CPD has been run on the cheap. Officers don’t have the training, the supervision, the equipment or culture they need and deserve.”
He suggested bringing the FBI, DEA and ATF together to form a special task force — “even if it’s just a Chicago-specific pilot.” He wrote, “We need to flood those neighborhoods with local and federal law enforcement officers. Not just to arrest the bad guys but also to be standing on that corner where shots otherwise might get fired.” He also said sending in the National Guard sends a wrong message that, “this is war, and you are the enemy.”
Rather, Fardon urged authorities to “send in the tech geeks” to curb the social media accounts of gang members flagged by CPD, or who have convictions or overt gang affiliations. He said gang conflicts often escalate on social media. The former fed acknowledged that “First Amendment issues come into play, but let’s test those limits. Lives are at stake.”
Fardon also said there should be a “place” in each afflicted neighborhood dedicated to reaching young kids before the gangs do. He wrote simply, “Brick and mortar. Create a place. Call it anything.”
And finally, Fardon said Cook County’s bail bond system “needs to be completely overhauled, and right now.”
“There should be no bail in state court for repeat gun offenders,” Fardon wrote. “There should be no bail in state court for those charged with acts of violence who have prior gun and violence convictions. Lives are being lost, every month, because of that bail system. It’s fixable, now.”