Chicago's Woke Mayor Finally Awakens

August 15, 2020
Florian Sohnke

In a first, Ms. Lightfoot attempts to make leadership work.

It is a depressingly familiar story, but one to which Chicago resident have become inured:  Wild speculation and half-truths following an officer-involved shooting.  

On Sunday, August 9, shortly after the crackle of gunfire disrupted a rare moment of serenity in Englewood, a necessary police presence provoked a confrontation with residents.  According to official accounts, police were called to the area after being notified a man with a gun was seen near 5700 South Racine.  When officers saw a man matching the description given, police pursued and after the suspect fired upon officers, police returned fire and struck the gunman.  Though police recovered the weapon used in the attack on police, a rumor spread on social media police had shot and killed a 15-year-old boy appealed to the anti-police prejudices of a segment of the population inclined to hold skeptical views of police activity and a confrontation followed in which police were met with shouts of anti-police invective.  Unfortunately, the tittle-tattle on social media platforms found a wide audience and the consequences were both broad and severe:  Against the backdrop of the shooting, Chicago was, once again, propelled into a maelstrom of looting in the downtown retail shopping district.  Breaking shortly after midnight, a sustained period of looting continued until dawn.  By sunrise, police were able to resurrect civility on Chicago streets, but only after gunshots were fired at police, two civilians were shot, over a dozen officers sustained injuries, and, once again, numerous retail stores fell victim to wanton plundering.

The next morning, realizing she faced a crucial test of leadership, Mayor Lightfoot held a press conference alongside Superintendent David Brown. Opening the briefing, Brown described the events from the night before and unveiled several steps the Department has undertaken to secure the city, including restricting access to the downtown area.  Brown twice implicitly blamed the Cook County State’s Attorney for her role in Chicago enduring another round of looting before concluding his remarks and turning the podium over to Ms. Lightfoot.  Though many Chicago residents were expecting Ms. Lightfoot to place a fresh and attractive gloss over the previous night’s looting as she had done two months prior after Chicago was swept up in a vortex of rioting and violence, in a head-snapping reversal, Lightfoot fumed over the chaos.  Speaking bluntly and forthrightly, Lightfoot denounced criminal opportunism, appealed to the public to assist police, and demanded the county prosecutor and the court system address criminal excesses.

A remarkably clear-eyed appraisal for the causes of criminality from both the mayor and police superintendent, though Ms. Foxx was not at the mayor’s side to pillory the gale of looting which battered Chicago, Cook County’s greatest criminal enabler had no intention of being publicly reprimanded without being heard.  Assembling her own news conference hours later, Foxx bristled with defensiveness for the entire half-hour, often standing with arms folded and a glacial state on her face.  Her lauded criminal justice reform on trial, Foxx struggled mightily to defend her policies and attempted to drown reporters’ aggressive questioning by citing statistics to draw favorable comparisons to her predecessor.  The attempt collapsed under the weight of folly and Foxx’s answers more closely resembled sixth-form gibberish than a spirited defense of her guidelines for the prosecution of crime.  A woman with a Ph.D. in incompetence, Foxx sought to tamp down any notion of a seismic falling out with the mayor or superintendent the next day in the editorial pages of the Chicago Tribune.  In her cri de Coeur, Foxx improvised her way into a defensive crouch, stating if nothing else Monday morning’s turmoil was not a consequence of her reform measures or a flawed strategy, but rather unintended disharmony among public leaders with whom she shares mutual goals.  Defensive dissembling, the conceit of Foxx’s editorial piece rest with the Cook County prosecutor appealing to city, county and state leaders to join her to “to meet the rising call for safer streets and equal justice.”

Mayor Lightfoot’s August 10th press conference was a commendable, if belated instance of mayoral leadership.  While Ms. Lightfoot’s public rebuke of Foxx was justified and necessary, if the mayor is to guide Chicago back from the brink, she, too, must demonstrate bold and principled leadership.  The only outstanding question is the form Chicago’s humbled mayor will take.  A city in crisis, it is incumbent upon Ms. Lightfoot to follow up and follow through with the assurances she delivered on August 10.  There are a number of steps Ms. Lightfoot can take to pursue her pledge to safeguard residents and businesses.  First, Ms. Lightfoot must develop a comprehensive anti-crime plan and she must seek guidance from the class of professional law enforcement personnel within the Chicago Police Department (CPD) qualified to frame and manage such a plan.  Likewise, any exhaustive plan to confront crime must include the mayor extending an invitation to representatives of the Fraternal Order of Police.  The police union’s perspective is invaluable in any conversation over crime and to deny Lodge 7 a part in the development of plan aimed at confronting Chicago’s crime epidemic would render Ms. Lightfoot’s “all hands on deck” mantra meaningless.  Second, Ms. Lightfoot must remove Ghian Foreman as president of the Chicago Police Board.  A panel with indisputable biases and predilections, its members are woefully unfamiliar with police policy and procedure, particularly use-of-force rules, and do not even feign neutrality when rendering decisions over the fate of officers facing discipline.  Doubly appalling, for Mr. Foreman to be present at a demonstration expressing incandescent rage with police over an incident occurring in Minneapolis and his complaint filed with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, the current Police Board president surrendered all personal and professional probity.  Third, Ms. Lightfoot must enhance police authority on the streets.  A critical responsibility of the mayor, civic tradition demands police are to receive support from elected officials in the public sphere.  Though Ms. Lightfoot has thus far failed miserably to bolster police legitimacy, the vital chore of reminding residents of their legal obligation to obey lawful police commands and emphasizing the officers serving with the CPD are figures of moral fiber can be achieved in both her public statements and through use of social media.  Last, Ms. Lightfoot must condemn Black Lives Matter (BLM).  A group dedicated to low-grade insurgency, BLM has a rich history of vulgar agitation, reckless activism, and flagrant racial antagonism.  Though BLM’s past should render it toxic, the group’s image has only been uplifted in the absence of strident criticism from lawmakers.  A sinister movement, and one founded on a web of lies, BLM only tears at the civic bonds which unite Chicago’s residents.

A position of leadership comes with a set of obligations from which an elected official should not be exempt.  The mark of a mature leader is making difficult decisions.  So far as mayor, Ms. Lightfoot has tended to defer the challenges of leadership, preferring to play both sides of the street to ensure her survival.  With Chicago at a crossroads, this city cannot afford its mayor assuming such a divided posture, for the reason it prompts a loss of faith among residents.  And a city experiencing a loss of faith in leadership and leaders who cannot marshal a summary argument in defense of their authority cannot endure.  Mayor Lightfoot must follow up her on her words from August 10.  To hold herself as a paragon of leadership, Ms. Lightfoot must be consistent in publicly demanding residents obey police commands, Ms. Foxx prosecute offenders, and both Cook County judges and Sheriff Tom Dart keep lawbreakers under lock and key.  Should Ms. Lightfoot fail to follow through and demonstrate the leadership Chicago deserves, her words at the August 10th briefing will forever be regarded as a non-sequitur which served to satisfy her desire for good press in a moment of crisis.

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