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Under pressure from aldermen, Chicago police Superintendent David Brown stresses violence plan, turns to poetry

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 7/2/2021 Jeremy Gorner, Chicago Tribune
a man wearing a suit and tie: Chicago police Superintendent David Brown at a news conference to discuss the coming July Fourth weekend at police headquarters on July 1, 2021. © Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune Chicago police Superintendent David Brown at a news conference to discuss the coming July Fourth weekend at police headquarters on July 1, 2021.

Under new pressure from aldermen seeking to press him on his strategies to fight the city’s crime problem, Chicago police Superintendent David Brown turned to a variation of a quote from British poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

“Ours is not to question why, but to do or die,” Brown said at a news conference Thursday when asked about the hot seat he now finds himself in. “Next question.”

Brown told reporters huddled in a multipurpose room at Chicago police headquarters that he doesn’t comment on political issues, though he said “I’ll be attending” when asked if he’s going to answer questions from aldermen at a special City Council meeting Friday.

“Man, use that quote,” Brown said of his Tennyson line, sounding upbeat. “That’s a great quote, man.”

Brown is set to appear at 11 a.m. Friday before aldermen who demand an explanation about his crime-fighting plans at a time when the numbers of homicides and shootings in Chicago are comparable to 2020, a year that saw some of city’s highest crime levels in decades. Like other American cities, Chicago struggled with violence last year as it dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest resulting from the police killing of George Floyd, but the problem has persisted.

Through the first six months of 2021, Chicago recorded 332 homicides, six fewer than the same time in 2020, according to CPD statistics. But the number of people shot this year, either fatally or nonfatally, was up by 13.5% to 1,880 from 1,656, statistics show.

Brown tried to put the most positive face on 2021′s statistics as he addressed the media, saying the month-by-month statistics for homicides and shootings are trending downward.

“We would love to be back on the momentum of 2019′s decline,” said Brown. “But we’re grinding our way with progress, and I would argue through the most difficult challenges in the history of policing in this country with, coming off a global pandemic, social justice movements, civil unrest. You all have heard all of the challenges that we face.”

City Council members ratcheted up pressure on Mayor Lori Lightfoot this week as nearly 20 aldermen called for the special council meeting to hear from Brown on the city’s violence plans. But Lightfoot has criticized that as a political stunt and said there are aldermen “who, frankly, want to turn the legislative process into some sort of stage performance.”

The sentiment from aldermen toward a sitting top cop is nothing new for the City Council.

In early 2013, for instance, aldermen complained about the inability of the Police Department under the leadership of then-Superintendent Garry McCarthy to keep violence down in their neighborhoods. This was in the weeks following the high-profile killing of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, a high school band majorette who had performed at President Barack Obama’s inauguration shortly before her death. That year ended with among the lowest homicide totals in the city in half a century.

Video: Chicago Police Supt. David Brown introduces LGBTQ+ liaisons (ABC 7 Chicago)


Lightfoot also noted in a statement earlier this week that all 50 aldermen have been “given the opportunity to attend three separate, formal briefings hosted by (Superintendent Brown) and his team covering the Police Department’s plan for summer deployments, summer operations and the summer safety strategy.”

“In addition, the superintendent and senior members of the department have a regular cadence of calls with individual aldermen to discuss ward-specific matters,” Lightfoot said. “The superintendent also holds a regular weekly press conference to review the previous week’s events.”

“Do I think this is about public safety? No, I do not. Are we going to be there to answer questions so residents are assured, absolutely we will,” Lightfoot said. “But let’s face the facts here. This is political shenanigans and you can figure out who’s behind it.”

“Burger King Ed is still alive and well and he is messing around and trying to create chaos,” Lightfoot said, referring to her political nemesis, Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, who is facing a federal corruption charge for allegedly extorting a Burger King in his ward.

Lightfoot has faced criticism for months over spikes in violence and the city’s response. She frequently blames the increase in street crime that started in 2020 on the pandemic and has also criticized the courts for largely being closed, but others question the effectiveness of her administration’s leadership.

On Jan. 1, Lightfoot emailed top Chicago police leadership to acknowledge the tough 2020 and express her confidence that this year will be better.

“I think we all know that we must do exponentially better in this new year, and I am confident we will. My confidence is grounded in many things, but fundamentally it is grounded in my confidence in all of you. You now have many months under your belt as a senior leadership team at CPD. And your bond will only grow,” Lightfoot wrote in the email.

Lightfoot also said that, “despite all the challenges of 2020, and there were many, a lot of very good work was accomplished. We and you need to build on that in 2021, every day, step by step.”

Even as Brown was forced to answer reporters’ questions about being called to City Hall, a coalition of local and national community violence reduction experts held a news conference to make a demand on Chicago’s elected officials: Fund community-based groups who are also working to reduce gun violence.

The group, which calls itself Fund Peace, is asking that between 2% and 5% of money received by city, state and county governments from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan be dedicated to neighborhood organizations working to reduce violence.

Speakers, some of whom pointed to the size of law enforcement budgets, said police alone can’t assure safety for communities and noted that the White House has already urged that the federal aid be dedicated to local organizations.

“The ARP money is a once-in-a-lifetime investment,” said Chico Tillmon, a senior research fellow at the University of Chicago Crime Lab and former street outreach worker in Chicago. “We’ll never get it again. You have to, you must, invest at least 2% to 5%. Police are responsive in nature. Ain’t nobody calling police before something happens. Don’t nobody wake up with anxiety, saying ‘I just want to call the police because I don’t feel good today.’ You need people who work in the community, know these people, can talk to these people, can help these people heal.”

The Thursday event included local and national leaders in the violence reduction field, including Chicagoans such as Tillmon who has been in Washington advising Biden’s domestic policy staff on how to address the daily gun violence plaguing many American cities.


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