Chicago’s rising violent crime: How to hold politicians and judges accountable? Connect the dots.
By John Kass
Over the Labor Day weekend, the people of Chicago will have two things on their minds:
What to grill.
And how not to get killed.
Like that Sox fan driving home from a baseball game, getting caught between street gang crossfires on the expressway, with more than 150 expressway shootings already this year, more than double since last year.
Or they might get shot off their porch. Or stabbed in the neck in a bank lobby downtown or perhaps, murdered by some repeat violent offender waiting trial, out now on low or no bail or electronic home monitoring because the politicians showed him mercy.
Not mercy for you. No mercy for the public. But mercy for repeat violent offenders.
That’s where we are now, facing the consequences of those good liberal Democratic intentions that have helped pave Chicago’s Road to violent crime hell.
Violent crime is the number one issue in Chicago. There is no other issue.
The city is suffering a 50 percent jump in murders compared to 2019, and thousands of shootings. Carjackings have tripled. And all the media and political cheerleading about the wonders of the once-wonderful city won’t make people forget how they feel.
They feel afraid. And they have every reason to be.
Just the other night on the 400 block North State Street, two men were beaten and robbed, slammed to the ground, and kicked, all of it recorded on that viral video so many are still talking about,
It’s all in that video reported by CWB Chicago, my go-to source for crime news. The video CWB presented shows the merciless beating, and a group of women off the side twerked up a storm, working their pelvises while the beating victims are humiliated, robbed of their money, even their shoes.
It was horrific, the demons unleashed, like something out of Hieronymus Bosch.
But it wasn’t Bosch. It wasn’t art. It was real and happened on the 400 block of North State Street just a short stroll from what once was Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. And things like this kill the city.
The other day on The Chicago Way podcast, Jeff Carlin and I were talking with Kristen McQueary about how best to cover crime.
McQueary is my former editor, and the editor of the editorial page at the Tribune. She should be running a news shop in this town.
“There are entities on Twitter that do a better job of explaining what happens in bond court than the newspapers, or tv stations or radio stations,” she said. “Every time someone is released on electronic monitoring or commits a violent act but they’re bonding out, the name of the judge should be in the paper, the circumstances.
“Those should be the stories we’re seeing every day so that there’s more connecting of the dots and holding individual judges accountable. They’re elected officials too. And I don’t think there’s enough exposure there as well.”
One of those entities is CWB. And CWB connects the dots while reporting on its growing list of people charged with violent crime while out on bail while charged with felonies.
I just wish the other news shops would, too. I know there’s a shortage of reporters, and those who remain are completely overworked, as are assignment editors and newspaper editors.
Chicago media makes do with a weekend’s litany of the dead.
But litanies of the dead simply aren’t enough to hold elected officials, and elected judges, to account.
A few days after that River North beating, my wife and I were at a friend’s birthday party just a few blocks to the northwest from where the beating took place. We sat at a restaurant along the river at dusk, the food was superb, as was the wine. On the far bank I could see the printing plant of the paper I once worked for.
And all anyone was talking about was violent Chicago crime and how the politicians aren’t being held accountable.
They talked about that CWB video.
“They kept beating them and beating them,” said a Chicago woman who loves the city and aches for what it’s become. “And the women twerking. Twerking while men were being beaten? It was hideous.”
It is hideous. And it’s Chicago. Not the Chicago you’ll read about in cheerleading stories. The Chicago that people live in, or run from.
A friend owns a restaurant in River North. The constant threat of street violence is killing his business. His is a great restaurant, one of my favorites. He’s so particular about the food he serves that he’ll take three days to prepare demi-glace just for the peppers and sausage.
But customers now avoid the area for good reason. They don’t feel safe.
“I’m not a cop, but this ain’t rocket science,” said Ald. Brendan Reilly in a tweet. “Put foot patrols back in River North to get this s–t under control.”
It’s not under control, Ald. Reilly. We all know it’s not under control.
As I write this, Chicago has a new downtown murder to talk about: Jessica Vilaythong, 24, an employee of Chase Bank, at 600 N. Dearborn. She was stabbed in the neck by a random goon in the lobby, and on Friday as I write this news is breaking that she died. Police were questioning a person of interest.
But she’ll be forgotten through Chicago’s defense mechanism: forgetting the names of those who float away in the city’s river of violence.
The people know the criminal justice system is broken, but they don’t know who to hold responsible for breaking it, or who is refusing to fix the system so that it works for the law-abiding. To the political class, they just don’t count.
And though news shops in town are understaffed, the politicians have plenty of people to spin the news their way, and taxpayers pay for the privilege of having these distractors wave shiny objects even as they’re slapped in the mouth.
My friend Jeff Carlin, a longtime Chicago radio producer and co-host of The Chicago Way podcast says that as local news shops continue to thin out, there is no real mechanism left to hold elected officials accountable.
“They [elected officials] have walled themselves off behind phalanxes of coms teams, adjusting their messages and putting out their own stories timed with keywords specifically to get above the other stuff, outthinking the zeitgeist and keeping the status quo in check,” Carlin said.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot takes the heat for rising crime. And yes, she should take that heat. She’s the mayor and her idiotic war with rank-and-file cops, demonizing police, hasn’t helped. But she’s not the only one.
What of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, the catch-and-release prosecutor?
In a recent WGN TV/Emerson College news poll, violent crime is the number one issue in Chicago. Lightfoot is under water, with some 46 percent disapproving of the job Lightfoot is doing, and only 42.5 percent approve.
Only 34.7% of Chicagoans polled approve of the job Foxx is doing, with 47.7% disapproving, and 15.9% unsure or have no opinion.
Foxx reacted to the poll by reverting to failsafe ploy, the race card.
“And we need to stop oversimplifying the criminal justice system and critically examine all the factors influencing violence in our communities. This means not relying on data from a cherry-picked poll that only examines two actors in a broad system and who happen to be Black women.”
Pathetic, yes, but effective in Cook County where Democrats rule and play race like maestros play music. She’ll play the race card for as long as can get away with it. And she’s been getting away with it for years.
Lightfoot takes the heat and stands by impotently as the Obama Machine and former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his money guys groom another hapless suit for the job:
Former Obama Education Secretary, Arne “The White Shadow” Duncan.
Duncan gets glowing media. And Lightfoot, scowling, wears the jacket.
And Foxx? She just won re-election with Lightfoot’s endorsement. And she’s backed by her political patron, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the boss of the Cook County Democratic Organization. Foxx’s qualifications for the post of top prosecutor? She was Preckwinkle’s gofer.
Whoever wants to be mayor will kiss Preckwinkle’s ring. And Preckwinkle—credited for emptying the Cook County jail, reshaping the new social justice bond court, and elevating Foxx—can slide away.
And what of Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans, who gutted his bond court and installed new “compassionate” judges who’ve put so many violent repeat criminals on his electronic home monitoring program?
He slides away, too. Tim has always been good at sliding away from disasters he helped cause.
What I don’t see:
I don’t see packs of reporters hounding Foxx, Preckwinkle, and Evans on the crime issue. Like Carlin says, they wall themselves off behind phalanxes of comms teams, and let Lightfoot take the beating.
“There should be an outside-the-box way of covering crime,” McQueary said. “We’re contributing to the numbness that allows this to continue to happen, among the electorate by just reporting every Monday or Friday, the numbers. you know, treating human beings and tragedies as numbers that go up and down, comparing them to the previous year. Little nuggets about where and when something happened, the age of the victim, you know a bulleted countdown of people killed over the weekend.”
But that’s not enough.
Like I keep saying, people vote with their feet. Or they vote with their wheels.
And they just drive away.
(Copyright 2021 John Kass)