Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday it “feels like we’re losing the streets” after another violent summer weekend that saw 32 people shot and nine people killed.
Lightfoot wasn’t around for this week’s version of what she likes to call “Accountability Monday,” when she summons Johnson and his leadership team to City Hall to hold their feet to the fire.
It’s a good thing for Johnson Lightfoot was in New York attending the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative. If fatalities and shootings are Lightfoot’s measuring stick, nine dead and 32 shot is not the kind of report card likely to keep Johnson in his job on a long-term basis.
“I do continue to have faith in Superintendent Johnson. But it’s not secret that I’m pushing him and his leadership team to do better,” the mayor said.
“You have to look at the long-term trends and one weekend does not a trend make. But, we’ve now had a couple of weekends since I became mayor where it feels like we’re losing the streets. And it’s an issue that I push them on and have concerns about.”
Lightfoot pointedly committed to keeping Johnson through the summer, but has made no promises beyond that. She wants to see how the summer goes.
So far, not so good.
Columnists from both major newspapers are speculating about a changing of the guard at the Chicago Police Department.
Lightfoot said Tuesday she’s aware of the speculation about Johnson’s future, but refused to tip her hand, saying only that she and her top aides are “asking the hard questions and we’re not resting with superficial answers.”
“We want to know, not only what the problem is. The problem is quite obvious. But what we’re also pushing people to look at is, what are the solutions? What are you doing to adapt to the changing circumstances on the street?” the mayor said.
After “flooding the zone” over Memorial Day weekend with 1,200 more police officers and 100 events and youth programs as alternative activities, Lightfoot came away with results tragically similar to previous years.
That prompted her to lower the bar, tying Chicago’s never-ending cycle of gang violence to what she called “systemic disinvestment” in South and West Side neighborhoods.
Tuesday, Lightfoot returned to that theme. She homed in on a problem so deeply entrenched in Chicago, it’ll take years to produce even the early results of a turnaround that has an impact on crime.
“What we’re seeing is the manifestation of a lot of disinvestment, a lot of poverty and a lot of poverty of soul — not just material wealth,” the mayor said.
“When we have calls for Streets and San to take off graffiti as quickly as possible, or else there may be [more violence] because somebody will respond in retaliation to graffiti, it tells you the desperate circumstances that we are in as a community and how we need to be much more holistic in thinking about how we reach these mostly young men and young men of color.”
The mayor acknowledged solving those problems are “on all of us” — not just on Chicago police.
“You’re gonna continue to see me linking the issues, not just with law enforcement response, but a more comprehensive response because, until we change the desperate circumstances in communities like Austin, North Lawndale, Englewood and Roseland—and that’s just a sample of the list--we’re gonna continue to see these problems,” Lightfoot said.
Three years ago, an end-run around the Police Board’s nationwide search for a replacement for fired Police Supt. Garry McCarthy allowed Mayor Rahm Emanuel to pluck Johnson out of obscurity, even though Johnson didn’t seek the job.
Emanuel pulled it off by rejecting all three finalists chosen by the Police Board after a first nationwide search and by persuading the City Council to cancel the charade of a second nationwide search required by law.
At the time, the Police Board president was Lori Lightfoot.
In March, Johnson made the case to keep his $260,044-a-year job.
“The reason it’s so difficult to change police cultures is because the leadership changes so often. Every three years you have to start over again,” Johnson told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“It’s gonna take, like, five to seven years to change a culture, a mentality. I don’t want to stay here seven years. But in two more years, we’ll be in a solid place.”
Johnson needs one more year to be fully vested in his pension as superintendent. But he emphatically denied that’s what’s behind his desire to stay.