In the same weekend as two devastating gun massacres were carried out in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, shootings in Chicago left at least seven people dead and 46 others wounded.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the violence reached a peak Sunday morning when 17 people were shot in three separate incidents on the city’s West Side, forcing Mount Sinai Hospital to temporarily stop accepting patients.
It was the worst weekend of violence Chicago has had this year.
So when Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot stood with Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson in front of the press on Tuesday to address the weekend’s shootings, she held an image of seized automatic rifles and guns to reiterate her frustration with repeat gun offenders being released pretrial on bond. She said she wants “detention with no bond” for the offenders.
One of the accused in the shooting she was referring to had his bail set at $10,000, and, after posting $1,000 of that amount, is on restrictive electronic monitoring and facing two felony counts of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon. The other accused was previously wanted on a warrant from Wisconsin and will face those charges in addition to the new felony weapons charges; he’s currently being held in Cook County Jail.
It was the kind of gun violence that typically plagues communities of color in American cities like Chicago, and black Americans are especially affected. Nearly 7,500 black Americans die by gun homicide every year, a rate 10 times higher than that of white Americans. Black and Latinx teens are impacted by gun violence at higher rates than their white peers.
“The voices of those closest to the pain of everyday gun violence are often not heard in the media,” Amber Goodwin, founder and director of Community Justice Action Fund, said. CJAF is a national advocacy group that organizes with communities of color to end gun violence through training, policy development, education, and leadership development. “First and foremost, we’re listening to survivors of mass shootings, everyday shootings, suicide, and domestic violence,” Goodwin said.
On Tuesday, Goodwin hosted a national call with advocacy groups fighting gun violence in their local communities. After kicking off the call with contemplation and breathing to remember the victims of violence, they shared some of the strategies they’ve used to fight violence.
From Chicago, Chyann McQueen chimed in. The 20-year-old activist works with Good Kids Mad City, a youth-led gun violence prevention group. She’s from the West Side of Chicago, where seven were shot last weekend at Douglas Park, and where she herself lost a friend to gun violence in 2015.
Good Kids Mad City is a youth-centered violence prevention organization in Chicago.
Good Kids Mad City offers healing circles, block parties, and peer-mediated conflict resolution to members of their community who are affected by gun violence. The group’s agenda to address the issue includes restoring and increasing mental health services for low-income communities, investing in schools and after-school programs for these communities, and creating employment programs for teens and young adults.
Notably absent from the platform coming from these youth whose lives are personally affected by the violence is more restrictive penalties for gun violations. “These are people’s lives; when it comes to people’s lives and their livelihood, not just trying to survive and make it to another day, you have to weigh the pros and cons,” McQueen said. “Do I want to punish or heal people?”
Chicago Mayor Lightfoot calling for arrests without pretrial release in reaction to a violent weekend is in line with a long history of proclaiming incarceration as a deterrent to crime. But a few months ago, even Lightfoot struck a different tone. “We cannot arrest our way out of our violence problem. Instead, the city and its partners must treat this epidemic of violence as the public health crisis that it is,” she said in a questionnaire responding to the Chicago Sun-Times during her run for mayor.
”To have leadership that ran on a platform of criminal reform reverting back to tired ideas that we’re just going to punish and incarcerate out of this problem is very disappointing,” Chicago Community Bond Fund executive director Sharlyn Grace said. “This is the kind of reactionary fear-mongering that created mass incarceration.”
The Chicago Community Bond Fund is an advocacy organization that pays bond for people charged with crimes in Cook County when their communities cannot afford to do so.
As Lightfoot maneuvers the summer’s violence for the first time as mayor, she’s shifted to the right on criminal justice reform, despite recent evidence showing the negative effects of incarceration on public safety.
Circuit Court of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans released a report recently showing that newly established bail practices resulted in more judges releasing eligible pretrial defendants, while also deeming more pretrial defendants to be a threat to public safety and holding them without bail. Money bond is used less frequently, and the amounts are lower.
A recent report by groups who support Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who was elected on a decarceration platform in 2016, found that under her administration, the number of people sent to prison or jail fell by 19%, while violent crime also fell by about 8%. “For felony defendants released on bail, 99.8 percent do not receive charges of new gun-related violent crime while their cases are pending,” Chief Judge Evans’ spokesperson said in a statement regarding bail reforms.
In other cities, criminal justice reforms have similarly reduced incarcerated populations without increasing crime. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and Mayor Jim Kenney agreed, having overseen a 33% decline in the city’s jail population from 2016 to 2018. By next year, the city plans to close its notorious 91-year-old House of Correction jail.
“The system didn’t work,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in an interview with The Washington Post. “Rather than holistically treating people, we’d just lock them up, they’d do their time and then they’d be right back.”
Lightfoot’s office did not immediately respond to a request for more information.
“There isn’t data to point to that will show locking someone up and throwing away the key as a solution to gun violence,” Community Justice Action Fund’s Goodwin said.
Still, after a weekend of violence during Chicago’s summer months, communities seek answers, and turn to the police and the mayor for accountability. To release someone who had weapons like that, Lightfoot said, “doesn’t make any sense.”