Good Kids Mad City offers healing circles, block parties, and peer-mediated conflict resolution to members of their community who are affected by gun violence. The group’s agenda to address the issue includes restoring and increasing mental health services for low-income communities, investing in schools and after-school programs for these communities, and creating employment programs for teens and young adults.
Notably absent from the platform coming from these youth whose lives are personally affected by the violence is more restrictive penalties for gun violations. “These are people’s lives; when it comes to people’s lives and their livelihood, not just trying to survive and make it to another day, you have to weigh the pros and cons,” McQueen said. “Do I want to punish or heal people?”
Chicago Mayor Lightfoot calling for arrests without pretrial release in reaction to a violent weekend is in line with a long history of proclaiming incarceration as a deterrent to crime. But a few months ago, even Lightfoot struck a different tone. “We cannot arrest our way out of our violence problem. Instead, the city and its partners must treat this epidemic of violence as the public health crisis that it is,” she said in a questionnaire responding to the Chicago Sun-Times during her run for mayor.
”To have leadership that ran on a platform of criminal reform reverting back to tired ideas that we’re just going to punish and incarcerate out of this problem is very disappointing,” Chicago Community Bond Fund executive director Sharlyn Grace said. “This is the kind of reactionary fear-mongering that created mass incarceration.”
The Chicago Community Bond Fund is an advocacy organization that pays bond for people charged with crimes in Cook County when their communities cannot afford to do so.
As Lightfoot maneuvers the summer’s violence for the first time as mayor, she’s shifted to the right on criminal justice reform, despite recent evidence showing the negative effects of incarceration on public safety.
Circuit Court of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans released a report recently showing that newly established bail practices resulted in more judges releasing eligible pretrial defendants, while also deeming more pretrial defendants to be a threat to public safety and holding them without bail. Money bond is used less frequently, and the amounts are lower.
A recent report by groups who support Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who was elected on a decarceration platform in 2016, found that under her administration, the number of people sent to prison or jail fell by 19%, while violent crime also fell by about 8%. “For felony defendants released on bail, 99.8 percent do not receive charges of new gun-related violent crime while their cases are pending,” Chief Judge Evans’ spokesperson said in a statement regarding bail reforms.
In other cities, criminal justice reforms have similarly reduced incarcerated populations without increasing crime. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and Mayor Jim Kenney agreed, having overseen a 33% decline in the city’s jail population from 2016 to 2018. By next year, the city plans to close its notorious 91-year-old House of Correction jail.
“The system didn’t work,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in an interview with The Washington Post. “Rather than holistically treating people, we’d just lock them up, they’d do their time and then they’d be right back.”
Lightfoot’s office did not immediately respond to a request for more information.
“There isn’t data to point to that will show locking someone up and throwing away the key as a solution to gun violence,” Community Justice Action Fund’s Goodwin said.
Still, after a weekend of violence during Chicago’s summer months, communities seek answers, and turn to the police and the mayor for accountability. To release someone who had weapons like that, Lightfoot said, “doesn’t make any sense.”