Chicago Mayor-Elect’s Silly View of Crime

May 15, 2023

Brandon Johnson should be mindful of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s words

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s name has become something of a punchline. For almost the entirety of her term in office, Chicago’s outgoing mayor has been ruthlessly satirized in countless memes, GIFs, T-shirts, or posters, most of which depict her as hapless in the fight against crime.

Upon her election in 2019, one of the more straightforward tasks with which Lightfoot had been charged with solving was how to get violent crime under control. Over her four years in office, the instances in which Lightfoot spoke out against crime were so exceptionally rare, it became impressive to watch how out of touch she was amid the acute threat crime posed to Chicago. The mayor’s inaction on crime was her undoing, so it was puzzling Lightfoot chose her appearance at the African American Mayors Association Conference (AAMA) to issue a solemn warning about the urgency to address violent crime in the Windy City.

In a stinging rebuke of the elimination of cash bail and an indirect criticism of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Cook County judges, Lightfoot fulminated:

“As Democrats, if we do not speak the truth about violent crime in our cities, we will be the worse for it.”
“I know that there are people in my city that are wreaking havoc every day and need to be off the streets. That’s reality. What do we say to, not only the victims of crime, but the people who are terrified about crimes in their neighborhood, most of whom look like us. If we say, ‘yeah, the police department is spending all this time and resources to arrest, put a case on,’ and the judges and the prosecutors say, ‘you know what? We’re going to let you out on electronic monitoring to wreak havoc again.’”
“You’re telling them that the criminal justice system doesn’t care about victims and witnesses. And if we don’t call that out every single day with these prosecutors and with these judges, many of whom don’t live in our cities and don’t care about what’s happening, then we are going to lose an opportunity to advocate for the victims and the witnesses and the residents who just want and deserve peace.”


Lightfoot’s belated acknowledgment of reality is welcome, but it is wholly insufficient, and, worse for her, comes far too late to save her shattered political career. To be fair, Lightfoot did publicly scold both Cook County’s courts and the State’s Attorney’s Office as mayor. However, the criticism seldom occurred, was flat, and Ms. Lightfoot never once mentioned either Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx or County judges by name.

Lightfoot’s hollow harping falls mostly on deaf ears now because she is in her final days in office, but the timing of her remarks at the AMMA conference is also notable in view of the fact Chicago, the city over which Lightfoot ostensibly governs, had been overrun by unruly teenagers days prior to her appearance.

One week earlier, over a three-day period between April 13-15, teens gathered first at 31st Street Beach and in the two following days, ran amok in the Loop. Referred to as a “teen takeover” or a “mini-riot,” the 72-hour interval saw utter pandemonium envelop two sections of the city. On the 13th, at 31st Street, a stolen car was set ablaze and met with a penetrating appeal to the crowd. Amid the mayhem, a 14-year-old youth was shot and Chicago Police reported the use of fireworks.

In the following two evenings, discipline in the Loop started to break down early, the looting of stores took place, and a group of teens laced into a CTA employee, seriously injuring him. Also, in the middle of the disorderly rabble on the 14th and 15th, gunfire, again, sounded, pedestrians were battered, brawls broke out sporadically, traffic was repeatedly interrupted, and teens ran wildly around Millennium Park. Two were reportedly shot.

Particularly troubling was the imagery associated with the teen takeover. Ironclad evidence of pure criminality broadcast around the globe, in video clips which surfaced on social media, teens were captured on film creating disorder by climbing on CTA buses, vandalizing public property, and terrorizing residents. In one particularly horrifying piece of footage furnished by CWB Chicago, a young couple suffered a particularly sadistic beating at the hands of a feral mob on North Wabash. An attack which resembled a primitive frenzy of killer sharks devouring prey, the couple was cornered, brutally assaulted, and robbed.

Though a legion of video and still images recorded what was undeniably violent criminal behavior, Chicago’s incoming mayor, Brandon Johnson, saw nothing amiss with the violence created by a frothing mob over three consecutive evenings in the city he is preparing to lead.

Greeting media after his address in front of the Illinois General Assembly on April 19, Johnson carefully tiptoed around the madness which had engulfed downtown, preferring to describe it as “behavior.” Though the mayor-elect did say “we don’t condone that behavior,” he waded deep into controversy when he continued with words which simply whitewashed undisciplined mob violence and absolved those who had committed criminal acts.

In a genial tenor, Johnson delivered a finger wag, stating:

“Look, demonizing children is wrong. We have to keep them safe as well. Have you ever taught middle school? I have. Have you ever raised young people? Do you understand the risks that young people take just because they’re young?.....They’re young. Sometimes they make silly decisions. They do. And so we have to make sure that we are investing to make sure that young people know they are supported.”


Denial on the verge of delusion, Johnson’s response strongly implies he believes residents of Chicago drowning in rising crime rates are inclined to tolerate the constant deterioration of their quality of life and willing to deny the existence of inner-city pathologies.

Johnson’s words will come back to haunt him

Let’s specify up front teenagers do engage in poor decisions so Johnson’s “silly decisions” remark is not entirely far-fetched. Nonetheless, reasonable people grasp there is a striking contrast dividing a teen’s poor choices and stark criminal behavior. For example: It is realistic to define a teen slinging mashed potatoes to start a food fight in a high school cafeteria as a silly decision. Comparably, it is tenable to interpret a high school athlete using profanity during an athletic competition as exercising poor judgment. In each instance, though, the teen faces discipline. In the occasion of teen misbehavior in a cafeteria, high school administrators issue a detention or hand down a stiffer punishment, such as suspension from school. On the field of athletic competition, the potential sanction could result in ejection from the field of play.

The problem here, of course, is what occurred downtown between April 13-15 was not cheeky teens merrily flinging bowls of rigatoni far and wide in the Loop or hurling abuse at an opponent during an athletic contest. Quite the contrary, the hundreds of teens who ventured downtown in April were vandalizing and looting businesses which served rigatoni and battering the restaurant’s patrons. More worrisome, what occurred in April was not an organic and spontaneous expression of rage demanding redress for a perceived injustice. The reverse, it was a loosely planned riot carried out by teens seeking to indulge themselves in an orgiastic tantrum of masochism and property destruction, and often to the adulation of fawning crowds of fellow teens.

Brandon Johnson’s response to a chaotic three-day period in April gives us a glimpse over how he intends to govern Chicago, and it is not a pretty sight. Though there are many factors over the better part of the last decade which have brought Chicago to this point, Johnson’s reaction to the April riot first tells us the new mayor does not fully understand the menace crime presents to Chicago. Second, it reveals his contention crime can only be defeated by redefining the word itself and reengineering the city's approach to crime and punishment. Third, it signals Johnson believes the teens involved in creating mayhem are victims of circumstances — poverty, homelessness — and of others’ machinations rather than criminal offenders. Last, and critically important, Johnson’s refusal to condemn criminal behavior is a tacit admission he will not use the might of office to remind residents of their obligation to obey Chicago Police and the law.

If Lori Lightfoot’s goal at the AAMA conference was to generate some cheap applause by belatedly discussing the need to confront crime, she accomplished it. Upon assuming office in 2019, Lightfoot faced criticism for being a political outsider who never managed an organization of substantial size. She left office after learning little on the job. Johnson is facing identical scrutiny. The responsibility to address crime, however, now falls on Mayor-elect Johnson. In his first test, Johnson failed as miserably as one can fail.

If Brandon Johnson absorbs any lesson from Lightfoot’s error-prone term, he is best served to recognize a mayor’s words have meaning. A man who is inheriting a city in tumult, Johnson has previously asserted his support for Kim Foxx greenlighting crime, the courts and Foxx releasing dangerous criminals, and defunding police. Johnson’s apologetic line on the April teen takeover of downtown only indicates he intends to, as did Lightfoot, adopt a sympathetic position with those who commit crimes.

Denial is not a strategy; it is a prescription for defeat. Johnson’s refusal to condemn the teen takeover and warn of consequences for criminal activity will only inspire more mob actions. At some point, Johnson is going to have to realize denial will not be enough to keep his leaky ship afloat. All the tough talk in the world cannot undo Johnson’s words. Brandon Johnson has sown the wind. Now, Chicago awaits the whirlwind.

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