Mayoral candidates agree that gun violence is a public health crisis

Mayoral candidates Lori Lightfoot (left) and Toni Preckwinkle speak during the Public Safety Forum. (Photos by Marc Monaghan)

Staff Writer

When it comes to gun violence and public safety, mayoral candidates Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle agree more than they disagree.

During a forum on public safety held at the Logan Arts Center, 915 E. 60th St., Lightfoot and Preckwinkle both said gun violence should be treated as a public health crisis and proposed similar solutions to deal with the crisis.

At Wednesday’s forum, a panel moderated by Laura Washington, a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times and ABC 7 political analyst, questioned each candidate in back-to-back, 45-minute interviews focused on how each would decrease gun violence in Chicago if she were elected.

The panel included Liz Dozier, a former Chicago Public Schools principal and CEO of Chicago Beyond; Charles Ramsey, a former deputy Superintendent and 30-year veteran at the Chicago Police Department (CPD; and Alex Kotlowitz, a journalist and author.

Throughout the forum, both candidates advocated similar policies to address problems they saw as central to the violence issue.

When asked about what some of the causes of the violence are, both pointed to segregation and divestment of the communities, especially those on the South and West sides. They agreed there was a need to invest in those communities, especially in the form of mental health resources and jobs in order to reduce crime.

“We have to treat it as a public safety and public health crisis. That means investment in jobs. Investment is small businesses. Investment in stitching back together the social safety net, in particularly around mental health and trauma services,” Lightfoot said. “We have kids here who are experiencing a level of trauma that is akin to veterans who are have done multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Both candidates supported the consent decree involving the Chicago Police Dept. to hold officers accountable to the communities that they serve. Lightfoot and Preckwinkle indicated that building a partnership between community residents and the Police is essential to keeping communities safe.

“When I was an alderman in the ‘90s, we invested a lot of money in community policing,” Preckwinkle said. “That was an opportunity for community residents to meet officers and to share information, what is happening on the beat and what the real challenges are. We’ve disinvested from that.”

They agreed on the need for more detectives for the police force, especially detectives of color, noting that the majority currently are white. Both also saw a need for improved mental health care for police officers.

“We need to make sure that the detective division gets out from behind their desk and is embedded in their neighborhoods so that they can build relationships with the community,” Lightfoot said. “No one is going to trust some white guy, which is mostly what they are, showing up in a white shirt and a tie, knocking on their door and saying ‘Did you see something? Are you going to tell me about it?’ People are afraid of putting themselves at risk.”

While agreeing on the need for a new facility to train police officers, both said the $95 million police academy approved for West Garfield Park should not have been approved in light of the major push-back from the community.

In her closing remarks, Lightfoot focused on the trauma caused by gun violence. “In the last seven years, we’ve had over 23,000 people shot in the city. Every single one of those shots is lives, on either side of the gun, that families who are going to be living with the trauma of that moment. We have an obligation as a city to do far better.”

Preckwinkle closing comments focused on investing in schools, specifically on funding afterschool programs.

“If we valued our young people, we would keep our schools open from seven in the morning to seven or eight at night,” Preckwinkle said. “Most juvenile crime is committed between four and seven, that is the time between when school is out and parents get home. If we want to have an impact on safety, we would invest in our schools, particularly in our afterschool programming.”