Chicago Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot Says City Has 'Fractured Relationship' With Police

Apr 3, 2019
Originally published on April 4, 2019 12:42 am

A day after a historic election, Chicago Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot laid out what she sees as some of the city's most pernicious problems: entrenched segregation, gun violence and economic inequality.

Lightfoot, the first black woman chosen to hold the position, emphasized the "fractured relationship" between the Chicago Police Department and the public as a critically important safety issue.

The nature of policing by the department "has not adequately taken into account the segregation in our city and that race does matter," she said in an interview with NPR's Morning Edition. That disconnect "has left many people feeling like the police are an illegitimate occupying force and we've got to change that around because literally lives depend on it."

Lightfoot, a 56-year-old former federal prosecutor who has worked in police oversight but never held elected office, said tensions in Chicago were exacerbated because the mayoral race unfolded as three police officers went on trial over accusations that they helped cover up what happened in the fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by a white officer in 2015.

The officer who fired the fatal shots, Jason Van Dyke, had already been convicted, but the three other officers were cleared of any wrongdoing in January — a stunning blow to McDonald's family and civil rights advocates across the country.

Lightfoot told NPR that prosecutors should re-examine the not-guilty verdicts.

"I've urged the U.S. Attorney's Office, my former colleagues, to reopen their grand jury investigation and if they determine that there are no civil rights violations they can bring, they need to have a fulsome grand jury report," she said.

"We've got to have transparency and healing so that people are able to move on," the mayor-elect added.

Lightfoot also touched on the issue of economic disparity in Chicago that has led to a lack of opportunity for lower-income people.

"We need to make sure that we are bringing real hope and economic opportunity to so many neighborhoods that have been disinvested in for decades," she said. "Building channels for people to believe that the city sees them and hears them and is willing to invest, is going to be critically important, and we have to start that right away."

Lightfoot, who also will be Chicago's first openly gay mayor, won Tuesday's runoff election against Cook County Board president and county Democratic Party leader Toni Preckwinkle. Both African-American women ran as progressives outside the sphere of Chicago's well-moneyed political machine.

As member station WBEZ reported, "The free-for-all campaign represented a sharp contrast to almost every past election in a city that has been synonymous with Democratic machine politics and bossism for nearly a century."

Lightfoot replaces Rahm Emanuel, a nationally prominent Democrat who withdrew from running for a third mayoral term.

As she prepares to step into her new role, Lightfoot said she is struck by the magnitude of the moment.

"I think that the people who come from communities like me as an African-American woman, as a member of the LGBT community, we haven't sat in the corners of power," she said.

"It's quite the opposite. We've been discriminated against. We've been locked out, and we've been excluded. And to have someone like me representing these multifaceted communities now be on the cusp of being the mayor and what I think is the greatest city in the world, I think gives a lot of people a lot of hope — and it is a milestone in a long journey that will continue to demonstrate though that we're making progress."

Lightfoot added, "Breaking the back of the Chicago machine, it's quite monumental."

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In Chicago, a candidate for mayor, Lori Lightfoot, claimed victory last night in a runoff election.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LORI LIGHTFOOT: In the Chicago we will build together, we will celebrate our differences. We will embrace our uniqueness, and we will make certain that all have every opportunity to succeed.

INSKEEP: So much to discuss there, so let's discuss it with Mayor-elect Lightfoot, who's on the phone. Good morning and congratulations.

LIGHTFOOT: Hi. Good morning, happy to be here.

INSKEEP: So you just said you wanted Chicagoans to have every opportunity to succeed. What is the basic problem you're attacking there?

LIGHTFOOT: Well, I think it's a multi-folded problem. Fundamentally, we need to make sure that our neighborhoods are safe - all of our neighborhoods. We need to make sure that we are bringing real hope and economic opportunity to so many neighborhoods that have been disinvested in for decades to building channels for people to believe that the city sees them and hears them and is willing to invest is going to be critically important. And we have to start that right away.

INSKEEP: Wow. Yeah. And you just touched on something that gets at the complexities of some of these issues. You want every neighborhood to be safe. I imagine you're talking about some of the higher crime neighborhoods, some of the poorer neighborhoods of Chicago. You'll want the police, of course, to be a part of that, but what is the problem with the relationship between the community and the police in Chicago right now?

LIGHTFOOT: Well, it's been a long-fractured relationship that I think has only been further highlighted over these last few years. We saw the tragic murder of Laquan McDonald by a police officer who shot him 16 times. But the truth is is that the nature of policing that has not adequately taken into account the segregation in our city and that race does matter has left many people feeling like the police are an illegitimate occupying force. And we've got to change that around because literally lives depend on it.

INSKEEP: Well, when you talk about the shooting of Laquan McDonald and so many shots being fired, we'll just remind people that in the midst of your mayoral campaign back in January, three officers were put on trial and were found not guilty. No one is being punished in that way for the shooting. What do you do about that now, if anything, as mayor?

LIGHTFOOT: Well, I've urged the U.S. attorney's office, my former colleagues, to reopen their grand jury investigation. And if they determine that there are no civil rights violations that they can bring, they need to have a fulsome grand jury report. We've got to have transparency in healing so that people are able to move on.

INSKEEP: I want to ask about something else that you alluded to there. You talked about celebrating people's differences and uniqueness. I want people to know if they do not you were the first African-American woman to be elected mayor of Chicago. You're the first person who is LGBTQ openly who - to be elected mayor of Chicago. When you got done with the victory speeches and the celebrations last night and had a quiet moment in the early hours of the morning, did that fact strike you?

LIGHTFOOT: Oh, yeah, the magnitude of the moment has been with me. You know, I've tried to obviously be focused on making sure that we got over the finish line. But I know it and I see it and I feel it in people who are really rallying to the cause and feeling like this is a brand-new day in Chicago.

INSKEEP: Why does your identity make it a brand-new day in Chicago? Explain that for people who maybe don't quite understand.

LIGHTFOOT: Well, look; I think that people who come from communities like me as an African-American woman, as a member of the LGBT community, we haven't sat in the corridors (ph) of power. It's quite the opposite. We've been discriminated against. We've been locked out, and we've been excluded. And to have someone like me representing these multifaceted communities now be on the cusp of being the mayor in what I think is the greatest city in the world I think gives a lot - people a lot of hope. And it is a milestone in a long journey that will continue to demonstrate, though, that we're making progress.

INSKEEP: Can it also be good for someone who is not like you that there would be that difference at the top?

LIGHTFOOT: A hundred percent. I mean, I've had people who clearly hail from very different parts of the world and our city really embracing our message of change. And the historic part certainly is the black woman, LGBTQ, but breaking the back of the Chicago machine is quite monumental.

INSKEEP: The political machine in Chicago. Mayor-elect Lightfoot, thanks so much.

LIGHTFOOT: My pleasure. Thank you.

INSKEEP: Her name is Lori Lightfoot, and she will be the next mayor of Chicago, Ill. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.