This Chicago mayoral election season has been vicious — and the personal attacks, ruthless.
But the debate between Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and attorney Lori Lightfoot on Friday took on a markedly different tone. It was hosted by WBEZ and League of Women Voters at Chicago State University in Roseland.
Students at Chicago State were asked to submit questions ahead of the debate. One of the most common topics – besides potholes — was the issue of police violence against African-Americans.
The moment came when the candidates, both of whom are black mothers, were asked a candidly personal question: What do you tell your children and grandchildren about encounters with police?
“I tell my daughter to be careful,” said Lightfoot of her 11-year-old. “The conversation, I think, a lot of black and brown parents have with their children: Be careful, be respectful, answer the questions politely.”
Preckwinkle’s children are now adults, but the message was the same. She recalled a conversation she says she had with her children as they were approaching their teenage years.
“Be respectful, [say] ‘Yes sir, no sir,’ keep your hands in view. Don’t ever argue with the police on the street. Never,” she said. “If they take you to the police station, just call me.”
“When I say this to a white audience, they look askance,” Preckwinkle told the predominantly black audience Friday. “But every single black and brown parent I know has had this conversation with their children.”
Both Preckwinkle and Lightfoot have been outspoken about the need to improve police-community relations, particularly in the city’s predominantly black neighborhoods on the South and West sides.
Chicago’s neighborhoods were designed to keep its three predominant racial groups — whites, blacks, and Hispanic— separate. Those boundaries are fortified by man-made and natural barriers, from the sprawling highways that dissect the city to the riverfront.
“We recruit [police officers] from those segregated cities and we do not adequately deal with the fact that race matters in policing,” Lightfoot said, adding that it brings about a police force that is “culturally illiterate.”
Both have been vocal about the need for equity in how city resources are doled out. Both have also been passionate about policing issues and have proposed changes to the city’s tax increment financing program, which they say has become a slush fund for downtown projects.