As Chicago braces for another bloody weekend, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is once again coming under fire for blaming a lack of morals in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods for the recent spate of violent crime.
Emanuel, who has been mayor since 2011 and is facing growing calls to resign from members of his own party, urged locals to “be a neighbor” and “speak up” to help law enforcement pursue killers, gang members and drug dealers.
After one particularly violent weekend earlier this month when more than 70 people were shot, Emanuel deflected questions about police staffing and strategy. Instead, he ignited a firestorm when he said there needs to be a politically incorrect conversation about character and values.
“This may not be politically correct," he said, "but I know the power of what faith and family can do. … Our kids need that structure. … I am asking … that we also don’t shy away from a full discussion about the importance of family and faith helping to develop and nurture character, self-respect, a value system and a moral compass that allows kids to know good from bad and right from wrong.”
He added: “If we’re going to solve this … we’ve got to have a real discussion. … Parts of the conversation cannot be off-limits because it’s not politically comfortable. … We are going to discuss issues that have been taboo in years past because they are part of the solution. … We also have a responsibility to help nurture character. It plays a role. Our kids need that moral structure in their lives. And we cannot be scared to have this conversation.”
Critics quickly called him out for what they dubbed tone-deaf comments, in which he seemed to be blaming the victims.
Shari Runner, former president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, deemed the remarks insensitive. "I cannot see the victims of racist policies and bigoted practices shamed by anyone who says they need to do better or be better in their circumstance. I won’t accept it,” Runner said
Kwame Raoul, a Democratic state senator who is running for Illinois attorney general, took a similar view. “I think for the mayor to make a generalization about a community is more than just misspoken," Raoul said, "it's outright wrong,”
Raoul believes curbing Chicago’s crime rate isn't a simple matter of neighbors ratting out out another. “We have communities that have not been invested in. We have communities where mental health services have been depleted. We have communities that have suffered as a result of the budget impasse in Springfield. All of these combined, along with the closing of schools, what does one expect?” Raoul told The Chicago Tribune. “What does one expect to evolve from these communities if you don’t invest in these communities and you don’t invest in the children within those communities?”
If something meaningful doesn’t change soon, many fear, the violence will continue to escalate.
“My boyfriend or brother picks me up from work every day,” Yordome Bello, who lives on the city’s West Side but works downtown, told Fox News. “It’s too dangerous. That’s the truth.”
Bello says she takes offense at the comments Emanuel has made.
“I’m not immoral,” she said. “My neighbors aren’t immoral. Is he going to come to my house and protect me? I’d like to see that.”
There was no response from the mayor's office to multiple requests for comment.
While Chicago has endured relentless criticism from President Trump – he has asked, more than once, “What the hell is going on in Chicago?” – the Windy City actually ended last year with 650 homicides – down from 771 the year before. The total, though, still exceeds the combined number of killings in New York and Los Angeles.
Though the numbers are down, there is by no means a heightened sense of safety or security in Chicago.
On Thursday, authorities arrested a teenage couple in West Chicago. Police claim 16-year-old Tia Brewer and 18-year-old Francisco Alvarado, strangled and stabbed Brewer’s ex-boyfriend before setting him on fire and running him over with a Jeep. Luis Guerrero’s body was found Tuesday in an outdoor fire it near Alvarado’s home.
Last weekend, there was a string of shootings that killed one woman and wounded 27 others. The weekend before that, a burst of bloody violence left at least 11 people dead.
And hours before the sun rose on Friday, two people had already been gunned down within 10 minutes of each other in downtown Chicago.
The first was a 20-year-old man who was shot in the abdomen on the fifth floor of a parking garage. He was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital and remains in critical condition. A person of interest was taken into custody less than a block away from the parking garage, according to police.
The second episode involved a 34-year-old man who drove himself to the hospital after being shot in the stomach on Wacker Drive in Chicago’s famous Loop about 12:40 a.m.
There have been no arrests in the case.