Chicago City Council Candidates Put Public Safety In New Light

Left to right: Alexandria Willis, Joe Duplechin and Berto Aguayo. (Chip Mitchell and Manuel Martinez/WBEZ) WBEZ
Left to right: Alexandria Willis, Joe Duplechin and Berto Aguayo. (Chip Mitchell and Manuel Martinez/WBEZ) WBEZ

Chicago City Council Candidates Put Public Safety In New Light

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With Chicago’s election just days away, City Council candidates are working around the clock to meet with voters. They end up in conversations about everything from political corruption to parking enforcement. But the issues that are driving many candidates to run are public safety and policing — the issues that have dominated Chicago’s civic conversation since the Laquan McDonald shooting.

We caught up with three first-time candidates — a community organizer, a public-health analyst and a police officer — to hear how the city’s violence affects them and what they believe should be expected of the police. Their words are edited here for length and clarity.

That job is what kept me alive

In his Brighton Park campaign office, 15th Ward Chicago City Council candidate Berto Aguayo works with volunteers before leaving to hand out fliers. (Chip Mitchell/WBEZ)
  • Candidate: Berto Aguayo
  • Age: 24
  • Occupation: Community organizer
  • 15th Ward: Back of the Yards, Brighton Park, Gage Park, West Englewood

When my parents divorced, my mom had to go to work full time. Coming home to an empty home every day, I ran out of things to do. I started hanging out with friends who were getting into dangerous things.

My mom was desperate to keep me away from the guys on the block. But she couldn’t find any job for me. So she went to a grocery store owner that she knew and asked him, “Don Chuy, I want to make sure my son doesn’t get killed and I just want him to have a job so he can be kept busy.” He responded, “I’m a small business owner. I don’t have the budget to bring on somebody new.” My mom replied, “Don Chuy, I’ll pay his wage myself.” He was so moved he said, “You know what? Bring him over and we’ll give him a job.”

I worked there every day after school, and some weekends. I got paid only a hundred bucks a week. But I felt the dignity that comes with a job. And there were times I wanted to be with friends who ended up getting shot. The only reason I wasn’t with them was that I had that job. It’s what kept me alive.

I’m running for alderman to unite and heal the community. We do a disservice to police officers on the ground by spending most of our money on policing instead of attacking the root causes of violence. When we wake up every day in neighborhoods like ours, we see the effects of disinvestment, overcrowded classrooms and housing instability. Those things contribute to the lack of public safety.

Our violence is embarrassing

Third Ward challenger Alexandria Willis speaks to potential voters at a career-training event in the Bronzeville neighborhood. (Chip Mitchell/WBEZ)
  • Candidate: Alexandria Willis
  • Age: 31
  • Occupation: Policy analyst for a nonprofit hospital chain
  • 3rd Ward: Bronzeville, Fuller Park, South Loop, Washington Park

I bought my condo in Bronzeville about four years ago. I wanted to be part of making it the awesome community it was destined to be.

I was driving with my partner, a U.S. Marine veteran who works fulltime in politics. I plugged my phone in and the blue light came on, letting me know it was charged. He panicked, thinking it was the blue light of a police car. He had just recently had an experience with the police within that week where they pulled him over, being rude, tossed the car. It just left him very upset. If an officer is having a bad day or wants to plant something on you, there’s nothing you can do about it.

I decided to run for City Council after a vacation in Toronto last August. I was having a good time, shopping and talking with people. And they said, “What is going on in Chicago this weekend with all those shootings?” I pulled out my phone and saw the alerts: 60 shootings, 10 dead. It was embarrassing and sad. So I wanted to hear from the City Council’s Black Caucus what we should do about the violence. Their answers — maybe housing, maybe workforce development, maybe this, maybe that — were so lackadaisical.

If you’re on the block and you’re robbing or stealing or selling drugs, you’re not doing it because you think it’s fun. You’re trying to survive. I would love to see the police department add social-service workers and mental-health responders to their force. Instead of just sending people to jail, a case worker would provide the resources they need.

The stress that messes with me

Joe Duplechin, who is running for 39th Ward alderman, poses for a portrait at the union office for Carpenters Local Union 58. (Manuel Martinez/WBEZ)
  • Candidate: Joe Duplechin
  • Age: 39
  • Occupation: Chicago police officer
  • 39th Ward: Edgebrook, Forest Glen, Hollywood Park, Mayfair, North Park, Sauganash

I’m a tactical officer in Englewood, a busy police district. You don’t have stressful situations every shift. But some days you may have three or four. On my phone I have this video of a situation one night. A guy had two big knives. He was going to stab his wife or something. I had just a second to figure out what to do. Do I shoot this guy? Do I tase him? Tasing doesn’t always work, but that’s what I did and he dropped the knives.

Once a situation like that is over, you have to go back out and finish the night. You have to put the stress away and move on. But it doesn’t stay away. To me, it seems to fuel a recurring dream based on something I experienced as a U.S. Army engineer in Afghanistan. I came up on a car after a roadside bombing. It got flipped. U.S. soldiers were inside. They couldn’t open the doors. They burned to death inside the car. When I have that dream, I know I’m sleeping but I can’t escape it.

During my campaign for alderman, I’m talking about how trauma and stress affect me because lots of police officers struggle with the same issues. I want to destigmatize it to help other cops.

There’s only so much the police can do. We can’t solve everything, especially for people who need to go to the hospital or need serious help. We have limited capacity. We can’t police our way out of the city’s violence. To reduce what drives violence — things like drugs, theft and gangs — it would help a lot to have more jobs in those communities.

Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio about policing. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipMitchell1.