Chicago police: spike in gun deaths represents ‘clear failure’ of criminal justice

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CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 28: People attend a prayer vigil for Nykea Aldridge outside Willie Mae Morris Empowerment Center on August 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. Nykea Aldridge, a cousin of NBA star Dwyane Wade, was shot in the head and killed when a stray bullet struck her while she was pushing her baby in a stroller Friday afternoon near an elementary school on Chicago's south side. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

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HARI SREENIVASAN: But, first: More than 80 people have been killed in Chicago this month. And more than 400 have been shot in August. It’s part of a weekly and even daily pattern of violence plaguing big and often impoverished sections of the city. So far, it’s a crisis that has eluded major solutions.

John Yang has the story.

JOHN YANG: One of Chicago’s bloodiest weekends this year ended the city’s deadliest month in 20 years. Among the victims, Nykea Aldridge, a cousin of basketball star Dwyane Wade, now with the Chicago Bulls.

Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson:

EDDIE JOHNSON, Superintendent, Chicago Police Department: She wasn’t aware that her short life would stand as an example for what is a clear failure in the criminal justice system here in Chicago.

JOHN YANG: Aldridge was caught in crossfire as she pushed one of her four young children in a stroller near a school on the city’s South Side. The surge in gun killings has largely been concentrated there and on the West Side.

Two brothers, Darwin and Derren Sorrells, are now charged with first-degree murder in Aldridge’s killing. Both are convicted felons on parole, and police said Derren Sorrells is a gang member.

EDDIE JOHNSON: This reprehensible act of violence is an example of why we need to change the way we treat habitual offenders in the city of Chicago. When will enough be enough?

JOHN YANG: Gun violence has fueled a jump in Chicago homicides this year to more than 449, nearly as many as all of last year. More than 2,300 shootings have been reported since January. And police have seized nearly 6,000 illegal guns, roughly one every hour. So far this year, Chicago has seen more homicides than New York and Los Angeles combined, even though both are larger.

This weekend may have been especially bad, but in many ways, it is no different than many other summer weekends in Chicago.

We are joined from Chicago by Jedidiah Brown. He’s a community organizer who’s seen this violence firsthand, president of Chicago Life, a community advocacy group. And by Lori Lightfoot. She’s the president of the Chicago Police Board and the head of the Police Accountability Task Force. They join us, both, from Chicago.

Thanks for being with us.

Ms. Lightfoot, I would like to start with you.

This has been a problem for so many years in Chicago. We have seen evolving tactics and strategies by the police, by community activists. Is there anything you can point to, from your point of view, that’s a sign of hope, that’s a sign of progress?

LORI LIGHTFOOT, President, Chicago Police Board: Well, I think one of the most important things is, this issue of violence is now not something that’s isolated to particular neighborhoods in Chicago, but it’s really a conversation that has captured the imagination of people across the city.

And I think shining a light on it and transparency around that is something that’s very important. And the reason for that is that we have a lot of great, smart, committed people here in Chicago. And I think bringing people together to take a fresh look at some of these issues is going to be vitally important to really making an appreciable difference in what’s happening in Chicago, and also not just thinking about this from a law enforcement perspective, that the issues that I think are the root causes of the violence that we see in many of these neighborhoods are not something that’s going to be solved purely with a law enforcement answer.

We have got to use what I would call soft power. There has got to be investment in neighborhoods. We have got to make sure that we’re giving our young people alternatives to this life on the streets. And we have got to keep talking about the importance of the sanctity of life.

But we also absolutely have to focus on the proliferation of illegal guns that really is changing and making more difficult the issue of solving these violence issues.

JOHN YANG: I want to get back to that gun issue, but, Pastor Brown, you’re on the streets. You talk to these young people. You see what’s going on.

What do you think about what Ms. Lightfoot has just said about this — sort of the use of soft power; it’s not just a police issue?

JEDIDIAH BROWN, President, Chicago Life: I think those are great talking points, but I’m very — I saw a young man shot this morning.

Yes, the conversation is being had across the city, but the conversation is people waking up to the fact that this mayoral administration has failed our city, that there is a lot of dysfunction in our neighborhoods because there is no representation, there is no resources, there is no activities.

And there is just a lot of talk. And so I hear what she’s saying, but the reality of it is that it hasn’t gotten any better. And I’m really praying that the man I saw shot this morning on my block where I live is going to live.

JOHN YANG: You talk in your Twitter feed about sitting — Pastor Brown, sitting in your living room hearing shots and sirens at night, but you say you still love the city.

JEDIDIAH BROWN: Yes, I love Chicago. I’m not going to give up on it, even seeing the young man shot this morning.

Like I said, the conversation, as a resident, we recognize that City Hall and the police department, that they could do more to empower the residents, but they simply just won’t do it, because I don’t think that they frankly care.

But I, as a resident, I am not giving to give up to violence and to the misconceptions of what’s going on, because this is not all gang violence that is happening in our city.

JOHN YANG: Ms. Lightfoot, he talks about the feeling that the city leaders don’t care about the South Side.

LORI LIGHTFOOT: I just think that’s wrong.

Look, there is more that can be done. There’s no question about that. But what we need to be working towards is a place where people who are directly affected by the violence, people of other — of good will across the city, elected officials and the police department are coming together in a space where we can work together towards a solution.

The people who are literally captives in their neighborhoods by this violence, the rhetoric, with pointing fingers back and forth, that doesn’t help solve the problem that they are living through every single day.

And while I respect the pastor’s opinion, I think that what we need to be thinking about is, how we can move forward together as a community to solve this issue as a community? It can’t be top-down. It can’t be only the police department doing it, without respectful engagement with the community.

But it has got to be something that all of us roll our sleeves up on and work towards solutions. And I think the language that we use in talking about these issues is also just as important as the specific actions that we take.

And I think we need to move towards positive solutions that are at multiple tiers, with all the relevant stakeholders rolling up their sleeves and working hard to try to address this issue.

As I said, it’s not an issue that the police department can solve by itself. It absolutely has a role to play, but so do our federal law enforcement partners, as well as the faith community, the people that are out there in those neighborhoods. And we have got to create a space where those conversations can be had.

JOHN YANG: Pastor Brown, you have said that you think Ms. Lightfoot has nice talking points, but what would you do? What would you want to see done to achieve your goals?

JEDIDIAH BROWN: So, what I’m doing now is, I’m actually organizing my neighborhood to take its safety in its own hands, trying to get residents back to the days of community watch and community patrols.

I do want to point out that, yes, it’s going to take everybody, all hands on deck. And so, like, even with Lori, who I met when she was appointed by the mayor, and we — they made a commitment to us to working with us after the Laquan McDonald surfaced, and we have not heard anything from them once they realized we wasn’t just going to provide them cover.

But we have been since then working very hard to organize the neighborhood and to let people know that they have to take public safety into their own hands and the cavalry isn’t coming.

And we have heard nothing from City Hall, nothing to help us. And they know who are the ones out here that are doing the real work. And they know that we’re out here consistently when victims are shot.

So, we’re now trying to find something to replace the trauma. When someone is shot in the neighborhood, it creates a very intense feeling of sorrow and grief and wanting to give up. And now we’re just — we’re getting ready to do pop-ups in the neighborhood to infuse hope in places that have been robbed by gun violence. And we’re having to do it on our own.

JOHN YANG: Pastor Jedidiah Brown, Loretta Lynch, unfortunately, this is not going to be the last time we’re going to talk about this. But, unfortunately, we’re out of time for now.

Thanks for joining us.

LORI LIGHTFOOT: Thank you.

JEDIDIAH BROWN: No problem.

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