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Column: Chicago top cop’s inconvenient truth: Fathers in gang life bear responsibility when their kids get hurt
Chicago Tribune - 4/28/2021
With violence rising in Chicago, as children like 7-year-old Jaslyn Adams are gunned down in street gang wars and as reporters complained he had stayed away from the media, Chicago police Superintendent David Brown held a news conference last week, one year on the job.
He was frank and direct. The most important thing he said about targeted fathers and their children who are killed or injured — that the fathers bear responsibility — was largely downplayed by the media.
“I’m going to answer all your questions until you get exhausted or you get gossipy and silly, and then I’m out,” Brown said, and for more than 40 minutes he took question after question.
The gang wars, the revenge, the social media clashes that turn deadly, continue. And more children are taken in Chicago’s never-ending river of violence. We become numb and forget their names. I’ve been writing about this for years. Perhaps forgetting their names is a way the city processes the violence while seeking mental refuge from the horror of it all. We forget.
And yet every time a child is murdered in the gang wars, at least some of us wonder: What was the parent thinking? Why would a man living the criminal life, in a town of thousands upon thousands of revenge shootings each year, be anywhere near those he loved?
Jaslyn was shot to death while in a car with her father at a McDonald’s drive-thru on the West Side. Police found more than 45 bullet casings on the ground outside the car and believe it was a gang hit. The girl died, the father survived, demanding accountability, and police are making arrests. But where is his accountability?
“No. 1, I’ve been Black a long time,” said Superintendent Brown. “What’s easy for me to talk about is this particular issue: This is really about people who are living the criminal life and their conflicts in putting their precious babies in the car with them.
“We can talk around it all you want,” said Brown, “but this is less about what police officers can do. This is about young African American males, young males of color, deciding to live a life of crime, getting in conflict with others who have decided to live a life of crime, and putting your precious babies in the car with you.”
No wonder what Brown said was downplayed. There’s too much common sense in his words.
Columns are opinion content that reflect the views of the writers.
Brown defends his boss, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, whom I supported. But now Lightfoot, a politically inexperienced former federal prosecutor, has no dependable base or constituency. And her city sees her flailing weakly against street crime as summer heats up.
This week she pulled a political misdirection play, announcing that the city filed a civil suit against an Indiana gun store, claiming that guns from that store are bought up by “straw purchasers” and end up in Chicago’s gang wars.
Fair enough. The mayor wants federal involvement here in a state vs. state issue.
But what of the local issue? Where is Lightfoot’s public condemnation of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans for supporting notoriously soft-on-crime policies, from lesser charges to the broken home electronic monitoring system?
Lightfoot endorsed Foxx for reelection. She won’t dare call out Foxx or Evans by name. She could, but she won’t. Crickets.
Brown rightly avoids policy fights and concerns himself with his department. And at his news conference last week, he addressed that simple question: If you’re in the criminal life, why would you be anywhere near those you love?
There is an answer, but many of us don’t want to say, lest we’re accused of blaming victims. It’s rather like asking why 13-year-old Adam Toledo was out at 2:30 a.m. in a Little Village alley a few weeks ago, with a reputed gang member and a gun, before he was shot dead by police.
It involves responsibility, choices, accountability and agency by the adults.
Unfortunately, some of us pretend that families are helpless, without agency. And as we pretend, we fit them all neatly into Chicago’s acceptable political formula. That’s another way we process the never-ending violence in Chicago.
Brown talked about poverty and a sense of helplessness among many in the gang life, and in future columns we’ll talk about solutions. But Brown begins with responsibility.
“And this has happened time after time after time,” Brown said. “It’s beyond enough is enough. Until you choose to live a different life, make better decisions, which I pray and hope you do as a young man, don’t put your babies in the car with you. Don’t put your innocent loved ones in the car with you, your mothers, your wives, people who have nothing to do with the choices you’ve made. But they end up being the victims of your choices.
“As a Black man to Black men: Don’t make your families the victims of your choice, but make better choices and let me just say this,” Brown said. “This can come across as talking down to people. I’m not talking down. It is hurtful for all of us to see these young children shot and killed.”
What Brown said could have made bigger headlines. Perhaps he was too frank, too direct, for the city numbed by violence.
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