Chicago sees most violent Memorial Day weekend in years; mayor blames new top cop

"While I know that there was a lot of energy and coordination among a variety of groups, whatever the strategy is, it didn’t work"

Fran Spielman and Mitch Dudek
Chicago Sun-Times

CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday condemned the “out of control” violence that turned Memorial Day weekend into a “bloodbath” and held David Brown, her new CPD superintendent, personally responsible.

Ten people died and 39 others were wounded in weekend shootings in the deadliest Memorial Day weekend since 2015, when 12 people were killed.

“We have to do better. We cannot have weekends in the summer turn into a bloodbath. And this weekend’s violence was out of control,” Lightfoot said.

“While I know that there was a lot of energy and coordination among a variety of groups, what I said to the superintendent this morning is, ‘This was a fail. Whatever the strategy is, it didn’t work.’”

Hours before the mayor’s news conference, Brown blamed cabin fever created by the statewide stay-at-home order for the bloodbath over a long holiday weekend that marks the traditional start of summer.

“The stay-at-home order did little to prevent violence, particularly in parts of the West and South sides,” Brown said Tuesday. “These incidents primarily involved disputes between rival gang factions as well as clashes involving the sale of illegal drugs.”

Police issued about 300 dispersal orders to crowds each day of the holiday weekend, Brown said. The crowding brings an increased risk of virus transmission, as well as injury or death, should gunfire erupt in a congested area, he said.

“The effects of the coronavirus also go beyond hospitalizations. People are feeling restless after being cooped up for weeks,” Brown said.

As for Lightfoot’s scathing review, CPD spokesman Tom Ahern replied: “As Superintendent Brown stressed, the violence we saw this weekend was unacceptable. From what we learned this weekend, we will continue to adjust how CPD deploys its resources.”

In a morning news conference, Brown acknowledged a cutback in officers working overtime shifts to patrol the streets over the Memorial Day weekend. Normally, that number is well over 1,000. Instead, “We had several hundred that were dedicated [to weekend street patrol] and coordinated a little bit better,” he said.

In her afternoon news conference, Lightfoot blamed disgruntled cops upset about cuts in police overtime for spreading a false rumor that there were 1,000 fewer police officers on the street. But she also contradicted Brown, saying “In fact, there were more officers on the street this weekend” than in prior years.

Brown did cite one crimefighting victory, though: A total of 216 guns were recovered over the weekend, 68 more than last year, with 86 people arrested for gun offenses, he said.

“This was a challenging weekend, but we are not shaken. We are not going to give up on our city. Our officers are brave, courageous, dedicated men and women who are risking their lives both with exposure to COVID and confronting violent offenders,” Brown said.

He noted more officers will be on the streets over summer weekends, including in prominent spots like on the CTA and along the lakefront.

Chief of Operations Fred Waller said police are implementing a “corridor strategy” that will place cops at highly visible locations on main streets around the city this summer.

“The idea is that would-be offenders will see marked CPD vehicles as they enter a residential area and think twice,” Waller said. “If offenders go through with a criminal act, our officers will be there waiting for them as they attempt to flee.”

After ripping Brown’s performance over the holiday weekend, the mayor tried to cut the new superintendent some slack.

She reiterated that the law enforcement “infrastructure” of courts, jails, and prosecutors has essentially been missing during the pandemic, leaving the Chicago Police Department “on its own” to fight crime.

“Federal agents … have been on the sidelines for weeks. That’s a problem. We have the courts that really aren’t taking a lot of criminal cases. That’s a problem. We have the jails that are effectively closed to new persons. So we have officers risking life and limb and arresting people who are absolute drivers of violence and they’re cycling in and out of the.. court system in 24-to-48 hours,” the mayor said.

“There is no circumstance like the one we are facing right now when it comes to public safety. … The only way we start to … drive down the numbers ... is if all the other parts of the eco-system come back on line. We can’t do this alone solely with the resources of the Chicago Police Department. … We’re seeing a surge which is absolutely unfortunate and unacceptable. But it’s not surprising, given that the eco-system isn’t fully operational.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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