Top cop calls Chicago's most violent weekend so far this year 'despicable'
According to the department, at least 52 people were shot, eight fatally
By Jeremy Gorner and Gregory Pratt
CHICAGO — Calling Chicago’s most violent weekend so far this year “despicable,” police Superintendent Eddie Johnson stuck to the department’s usual explanation for what went wrong, blaming the flow of illegal guns and a too-lenient criminal justice system.
“Unfortunately, over the past 72 hours in Chicago, we saw a despicable level of violence,” Johnson said at a news conference Monday at police headquarters. “Weekends like this remind us all of the challenges that we face and that they are complex and profound.”
According to the department, at least 52 people were shot, eight fatally, from 6 p.m. Friday until midnight Monday. At least one other person was fatally stabbed, bringing the homicide toll to nine.
More than half the victims — 31 to be specific — were wounded during a 12-hour burst of gunfire from Friday evening to Saturday morning in areas of the South and West sides that have long struggled with crime, poverty and hopelessness. Four of them died.
Police officials said the weekend violence resulted from gang conflicts, drug-dealing and personal disputes that escalated.
At City Hall, Mayor Lori Lightfoot stepped outside of a meeting Monday afternoon with police and city officials that she dubbed “Accountability Mondays” when she regularly plans to review the city’s policing strategies after weekends that often are marked by astonishing violence.
“What I said to them in the opening was if they’re not going to bed every night and waking up every morning worrying and having a sense of urgency and asking themselves what more they can personally do to fight crime and stem the violence in their city, they’re in the wrong job,” she said.
Asked if she was optimistic the department has effective strategies in place to combat violence, Lgihtfoot said, “I’m optimistic that we will have effective strategies going in place because I’m going to make sure that happens.”
Johnson said some shootings took place with officers a short distance from the gunfire. Austin District Cmdr. Ernest Cato, for instance, was a half a block away when shooting erupted, prompting him to join his officers from the West Side district on foot patrol, according to Johnson.
“That just shows you how emboldened some of these individuals are,” the superintendent, flanked by seven of his top deputies, told reporters. “And it’s ridiculous that we just cannot get this right in terms of holding people accountable and finding alternatives for certain individuals.”
Johnson has long blamed the unrelenting violence on the flow of illegal guns on city streets and a court system that allows too many criminals caught with those weapons to be bonded out prematurely.
“We know who a lot of these people are,” said Johnson, using a phrase he once said frequently but hadn’t for some time. “And how do we know that? Because we keep arresting them over and over and over and over and over again, and it’s just a vicious cycle.”
The mayor also said she will be talking with judges and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office about making sure gun offenders aren’t allowed back onto the street soon after being charged with firearm crimes.
A spokesman for Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans, however, later pointed to a recent study commissioned by his office that found felony defendants released on bail rarely picked up a new charge of violence. From October 2017 through December 2018, less than 150 of about 24,000 defendants released from custody — about 0.6% — were charged with a new violent offense, the study found.
So far in 2019, homicides and shootings have actually fallen for the third consecutive year since a disastrous 2016 saw the worst violence in almost two decades. Through May 26, homicides dropped about 10 percent from a year earlier, while shootings declined 13 percent, department statistics show.
Teny Gross, who heads the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, a group that works with individuals — many of them youths — at risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of violence, said the rash of shootings this past weekend felt “like a real setback.”
“This weekend felt very mayhemlike and very busylike,” said Gross, whose group largely focuses on the West Side. “… We go into even higher gear when that happens.”
Despite the bloody weekend, Gross said he’s not discouraged going into the summer.
“I feel that the structures that have been built and the mobilization of outreach groups are already bearing fruit in some neighborhoods, and we’re determined to continue to push forward despite the setback,” he said.
Asked if the Police Department’s strategies worked over the weekend or needed improvement, Johnson said he and his command staff are always looking for ways to be more effective. He extolled their work effort and commitment.
“These people that you see up here with me today from Memorial Day to today probably hadn’t had a day off,” he said. “So if that doesn’t give you the sense that they’re committed to what we do, I don’t know what will.”
©2019 the Chicago Tribune