Meet Chicago’s New Deputy Mayor for Community Safety

June 19, 2023

Mayor Johnson appoints a defund, abolish, and decarcerate activist to oversee public safety

In the days which followed Mayor Brandon Johnson’s overhyped inauguration as the 57th mayor of Chicago, Contrarian published two essays which gave some insight into appointees to the mayor’s inner circle.

In her incisive May 26 piece, Alisa Rosenbaum emphasized the common thread which runs through Johnson appointees to crucial leadership positions in city government is a staggering lack of skill and experience. Days later, on May 31, Marty Preib wrote a reasoned essay in which he unmasked the depths of Mayor Johnson’s radicalism by virtue of the new mayor throwing his arms around domestic terrorist and Lenin Peace Prize winner Angela Davis.

Both Johnson’s unqualified appointees and his embrace of communist ideologue Angela Davis are illuminating for a variety of reasons. First, it revealed Johnson’s willingness to sacrifice basic competence in government in favor of ideological zealotry. Second, by not concealing his relationship with Davis, Johnson presented his authentic self and showed he is unashamed of his political extremism.

Though Ms. Rosenbaum and Mr. Preib had entirely different objectives in their commentary, both found the appointment of Garien Gatewood as Deputy Mayor of Community Safety significant enough to mention him prominently in their work. The appointment of Gatewood to the newly created position of Deputy Mayor of Community Safety deserves some scrutiny.

A graduate of Jackson State University and the University of Mississippi School of Law, Gatewood served as a law clerk with the Southern Poverty Law Center before joining the Cincinnati chapter of the Children’s Law Center as a reentry advocate. Following two years with Children’s Law Center, Gatewood accepted a position with the Juvenile Justice Initiative in Chicago, where he served as director of policy advocacy. In his final four years prior to accepting the position of Deputy Mayor under Mayor Johnson, Gatewood was a program director with the Illinois Justice Project before becoming director of the organization.

Upon closer examination, the titles Gatewood has held are suspiciously akin to a juvenile public defender.

While the organizations with which Mr. Gatewood has served sound noble, each institution is adamantly committed to weakening laws applied to juvenile offenders, excusing juvenile recidivism, reducing the juvenile prison population, and calling for the end of post-incarceration supervision for youth offenders. Worse, many specialize in pursuing vexatious lawsuits against municipalities and are staffed and led by individuals who are irresponsible critics of criminal law, police policy, and procedure.

Though Mayor Johnson and his supporters prefer to think Gatewood’s curriculum vitae is a great asset for his role as Deputy Mayor, lending him both experience and gravitas, the gaping hole in Gatewood’s resume, however, is he has no experience in the enforcement of the law. In the context of the role Mr. Gatewood is expected to fulfill, the Children’s Law Center, Juvenile Justice Initiative, and Illinois Justice Project are much more progressive advocacy shops for juvenile offenders than organizations which propose sensible reforms. It is therefore fair to speculate Gatewood is poised to usher in soft-on-crime policies in his new role as deputy mayor.

Upon accepting the position of Deputy Mayor, Gatewood articulated his ideological vision for Chicago:

“I am humbled by this opportunity to advance a holistic and comprehensive approach to community safety. I’ve worked with the young people of Chicago for years, and I know that together we can deliver on a vision for a stronger, safer city that addresses the root causes of violence, provides support for youth and adults alike, and lifts up every neighborhood.”


While Mr. Gatewood’s comments sound benevolent, if we draw on his words — particularly his application of “holistic” and “comprehensive” to describe his vision — it gives the game away: The watchword of Johnson’s administration is “equity.” As head of community safety, Gatewood’s singular quest is to embed equity into every public safety policy or initiative City Hall enacts. To Gatewood and Mayor Johnson, the City of Chicago has engaged in “overpolicing” in minority neighborhoods for decades, the result of which was high rates of incarceration of minority men. Johnson, however, is determined to correct the “structural discrimination” in public safety policy from City Hall.

Though Mayor Johnson has vowed to embark on a massive spending spree for a raft of jobs and after-school programs to ensure safer streets, in his massive multi-pronged operation to create his “better, safer, stronger Chicago,” Johnson intends to involve businesses and philanthropy alongside government. Unsurprisingly, Johnson is convinced government policy will be the most valuable pincer to reduce inequality, achieve equity, and improve public safety in ways policing fundamentally does not.

To level the playing field and achieve the equity Johnson covets, Chicago can expect Gatewood to formulate policies which are consistent with reform measures found in Kim Foxx’s State’s Attorney’s Office and Judge Timothy Evans’ Cook County court system. Though these policies have manifestly failed and endangered Chicago residents, City Hall will echo Foxx’s and the County Court system’s call for leniency for violent offenders and less condemnation of criminals. Furthermore, there is every reason to believe City Hall will issue rote exclamations for empathy for criminals — particularly juvenile offenders — incarceration as a last resort, and only for the most serious offenses. While City Hall demands the public demonstrate compassion for criminal offenders, it will also blather about crime’s supposed "root causes," without ever acknowledging a main source of crime is neither racism or poverty but deliberate choice.

More concerning, though Mayor Johnson contradicted himself over defunding the Chicago Police Department (CPD) on the campaign trail, Chicago can anticipate less proactive policing over the next four years. Under Gatewood’s guidance, City Hall will doubtlessly issue changes to CPD policy which will restrict police use of force and place further curbs on foot and vehicular pursuit directives.

In what is perhaps the crown jewel in Johnson’s treasure chest, Gatewood will focus with piercing clarity on shifting the responsibilities of policing to non-police personnel. Having shown little interest in filling CPD’s many vacancies, Johnson will direct Gatewood to franchise out police work to mental health workers and violence interrupters, vastly expanding their use at a swift pace. Though neither social workers nor violence interrupters enjoy a reputation for averting gang feuds, settling domestic disputes or breaking up riots, the hire of powerless, unarmed social workers or peacekeepers to walk streets will allow Mayor Johnson to boastfully declare an elimination of the “cycle of police violence.”

Public safety takes a backseat to equity

Amid a staggering wave of violent crime in Chicago, and with crime up an astonishing 38 percent since he took office, Mayor Brandon Johnson has designated a man with the qualifications of a crossing guard to oversee public safety.

Although the core function of Deputy Mayor for Community Safety is to maintain safety and security on Chicago streets, Gatewood’s appointment to lead community safety efforts sends a powerful signal City Hall’s first consideration for safety returning to the streets is social justice. A value system which holds Chicago’s justice institutions with utter contempt — particularly those responsible for parceling out impartial, unqualified justice — social justice is incompatible with Chicago’s social compact.

On a historic mission to rewrite City Hall’s social accord with Chicago, both Johnson and Gatewood believe the only solution to Chicago’s nagging epidemic of crime is addressing social-justice priorities through the manipulation of law enforcement policies. While Gatewood’s social justice concerns are driven by an impulse to contend with unpleasant social outcomes, lost amid the drive to decree such changes is the predominant purposes of public safety: The prevention of crime, the preservation of public order, and the protection of law-abiding residents. The problem here, of course, is Chicago is submerged in violent crime, and at a time in which there is a demand for a robust and comprehensive anti-crime strategy, Gatewood is obsessing over equity.

Lamentably, this warped, progressive thinking now dominates Chicago and has contaminated CPD procedures. A classic example of how ideological progressives are ill-fitted to administer over public safety, law enforcement and public safety are both well beyond Gatewood’s field of expertise. Enforcement of the law is simply beyond his knowledge or ability to cope. A career apologist for juvenile offenders, Gatewood’s worldview places an obligation on him to excuse or exempt criminals from the consequences of their deliberate involvement in criminal activity.

With the current conditions in Chicago at risk of sliding further into disorder and decline, the Windy City urgently requires competent and uncompromising crime fighters in city government. Unfortunately, Mayor Johnson appointed a social worker who is intent on placing ideological goals ahead of the well-being of Chicago's residents.

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