Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants Chicagoans to know she feels the anger and despair many are feeling about police brutality and structural racism in this country.
Using a rare prime-time address Tuesday night to speak directly to residents, Lightfoot, the city’s first black female mayor, expressed empathy for those peacefully protesting the death of George Floyd, while also pushing a message of hope.
“My heart is broken over what has happened here in the city that I love,” Lightfoot said speaking directly to the camera from her fifth floor office in City Hall.
George Floyd’s death after Minneapolis police kept him down with a knee to the neck is a story well known to Chicagoans, Lightfoot said, a story of police violence against African Americans that dates back to the days of slavery.
“And if we're honest, it goes back to at least as far as the red summer in 1919, and many other events before and since,” Lightfoot said. “It's about a fear that I must confess I still feel when I think about how the world would see my young black daughter.”
“However, I must draw a sharp line between the righteous and the wrong, between the hopeful and the cynical,” the mayor continued. “We cannot conflate legitimate First Amendment expression with criminal conduct. Those acts are separate and distinct.”
The mayor’s remarks follow several nights of unrest, looting and vandalism across the city, particularly in neighborhoods that have felt overlooked by past mayors. Lightfoot said she will be putting $10 million of city money toward a fund that will help businesses, in particular on the South and West Side, rebuild.
More recently, Floyd’s death opens deep wounds in a city that has been marred by over-policing, particularly in historically segregated Black neighborhoods, the mayor added. From Laquan McDonald — whose fatal shooting in 2014 sparked a rallying cry of “16 shots” — to Jon Burge, the infamous police commander whose Midnight Crew secretly tortured African Americans for decades.
It was the issue of biased policing that pushed Lightfoot from an unknown bureaucrat to the head of a city task force in charge of fixing Chicago’s longstanding history of over policing minority neighborhoods, a job she wants to continue as mayor.
She spoke of what she said she saw as an uprising of residents across the city in these past days, not only to protest, but to rebuild, together.
“The opposite of violence is not security. The opposite of violence is justice. Justice is not something we can only look to find in law enforcement or in the courts,” she said. “Justice makes demands of all of us. Every part of our city. So tonight, my sadness, my anger, my frustration...they are met by my righteous hope. Hope that we own this moment.”
Lightfoot announced a series of reforms she wants to implement within the next 90 days, including new police training that incorporates citizen involvement — teaching officers the history of the neighborhoods they will police — officer wellness programs, and additional crisis intervention training for officers.
Many of these initiatives were recommended by a Department of Justice investigation into the Chicago Police Department but the city has been slow to implement long-standing reforms. The city is still under a federal consent decree and its progress is being supervised by an independent monitor.
Claudia Morell covers City Hall for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @claudiamorell