Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday implored young people to put down the guns — and urged their parents to secure their weapons and pay attention to their kids — after a weekend that saw eight children shot within an 18-hour span.
Lightfoot ticked off the tragic circumstance behind each of the shootings, then talked about the “common thread:” children and teens with guns they “never should have possessed in the first place” because the “adults in their lives failed them.”
That is particularly true of the adult who “let a bunch of kids into an empty apartment” without supervision, causing “chaos” that included a shooting that left six people wounded, three of them teenagers, the mayor said.
“No amount of policing, no superior crime strategy can address these private moments where adults allowed children and teens access to deadly weapons. Adults, we have to be better,” Lightfoot said.
“And for teens and young adults, my plea is put the guns down. You’re not a punk or weak if you don’t carry a gun. And you’re certainly not stronger or safer with a gun. A gun means that your future is gonna be ... irreparably shaped by a trigger pull. You pick up a gun, you picked up a ticking time bomb.”
Lightfoot delivered her tough-love message after hosting a roundtable discussion with students at Wendell Phillips Academy, then announcing a multi-year expansion of a mentoring program with a proven track record.
More than 2,000 at-risk students — up from 600 so far — will go through therapy to understand traumatic experiences, meet with their mentors for an average of eight hours a week, and have access to recreational activities and field trips.
After talking to the students, Lightfoot openly acknowledged there is “a lot we can do better” to make certain that young people feel police are “on their side” and that those most at risk have the recreational alternatives they want and need.
Police need to get “out of their cars” and start “building relationships with young people,” the mayor said. Interim Police Superintendent Charlie Beck strongly agreed.
“I understand that they want and they think they would benefit from a better relationship, a closer relationship, a more normalized relationship with the police that work their neighborhoods,” Beck said.
“Because of that and because this is also what I believe in, we are gonna set Chicago on a path to having beat officers … who are not chasing 911 calls but are there to work with young people ... to make communities healthy.”
But Lightfoot stressed that none of that is a substitute for parental responsibility.
“What also needs to happen is that the adults … in these young peoples’ lives need to love them and need to make sure that they’re doing everything they can to be there for them. To be present in their lives. To teach them right from wrong. To be there to listen to their fears, their concerns, their aspirations. Those are things that you must do as a parent, as a caregiver, and we can’t replicate all of that,” the mayor said.
“And God forbid, if you bring a gun into a home, you have a moral and legal obligation to make sure that gun is always secure. We can’t have a circumstance where a 7-year-old knows where the keys are to a gun lock, gets access to them and opens up that gun lock, then carries that gun in a backpack, as happened this past weekend.”
Two years ago, mayoral challenger Lori Lightfoot accused then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel of victim shaming for citing an absence of “values” and “character” in the African-American community after a weekend bloodbath that left 12 people dead and 71 others shot.
She accused Emanuel of trying to “offload responsibility to those same victims by saying there is a shortage of values about what is right and what is wrong and what is acceptable and what is condoned.”
Lightfoot argued then the circumstances that breed gang violence were “deep and complicated” and require a “thoughtful” response — not a response that “blames those very same communities that have been starved for resources” and where there is “very little opportunity for people to connect to the legitimate economy.”
As Chicago’s first African-American female mayor, Lightfoot obviously feels she has the moral high ground that Emanuel didn’t.
That’s particularly true because she has simultaneously waged a war on poverty and declared an end to what she called a “law enforcement first and only public safety strategy model” in favor of a “comprehensive approach aimed at reaching the most vulnerable among us in the most vulnerable neighborhoods.”