Mayor Lightfoot must get Chicagoans to truly care about gun violence

Chicago police work at the scene of a shooting in the 6300 block of South Seeley Avenue on April 6, 2019.

As Lori Lightfoot takes control of Chicago, I’m hopeful — naively, perhaps — that she’ll be the mayor to sift through a history of failed attempts and find a comprehensive solution to the city’s gun violence.

It’s all that should matter. Both to her and to us.


We can’t have hundreds upon hundreds of bullet-riddled bodies hitting the ground each year and say our city has a more pressing issue.

Well, technically we can. None of Lightfoot’s predecessors have treated Chicago’s violence with the urgency it demands. And the city’s residents, particularly the rich and powerful, haven’t deemed the mass murder of black and brown people a big enough problem to push politicians to make meaningful changes.


The killing is largely contained to the less-visible streets of the South and West sides, after all. A few dozen dead in Englewood doesn’t make a politician sweat. So on it goes.

But if violence started breaking out in Lincoln Park or Lakeview? Rivers of sweat. And, undoubtedly, a swift solution.

Everyone knows that’s the case. There has never been the political will to take on the myriad issues that combine to create an environment where violence thrives because the violence is thriving in neighborhoods that, to most, are invisible. Places they know to avoid. Places they choose to ignore, or look down on as beyond saving.

Lightfoot’s biggest task will be simply getting Chicagoans to give a damn about violence that doesn’t impact them personally. To see it as a problem worthy of the new mayor’s time and the city’s resources.

She has spoken in ways that are encouraging. Like this: “We cannot afford to do business as usual and think we’re going to get a different result. I’m doing everything I can to move city government to focus on areas on the West Side and areas on the South Side that just seem like we haven’t made progress in tamping down the violence.”

And this: “I’m particularly focused on the West Side and parts of the South Side that I think are so far behind. We’re starting to engage in conversations anew with people in those neighborhoods about what the opportunities and resources are. It varies by area, but basic infrastructure that you’re really going to need to build a development plan around doesn’t exist. Things like not just good-quality schools, but roads, vacant lots, IT and broadband access. Those things are lacking remarkably in parts of our city.”

The city’s gut response to street violence has always involved police, with far less attention paid to the root causes of violent behavior: lack of jobs; lack of social services; poor educational opportunities; an endemic lack of hope.

I’m hopeful Lightfoot is serious about finding ways to invest in the Chicago communities that need it most. The idea that a rising tide lifts all ships hasn’t worked here. The vibrant parts of Chicago have continued to grow and build while the poor swaths of the city have been left to stagnate and erode. Over the years, thousands — literally thousands — of lives have been lost.


At a march against gun violence Saturday in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, Lightfoot said: “We read these stories about shootings, about someone killed, someone wounded, but what we miss in the telling is the real depth of who the people are.”

I’m going to disagree with her on that point. My colleagues here, along with reporters at the Chicago Sun-Times and every broadcast outlet in the city, have spent years — decades, really — giving Chicagoans deeply personal stories of people, young and old, who fall victim to gun violence.

We have reporters up all night visiting crime scenes and speaking to families in hospital waiting rooms so they can put human faces on the raw numbers of the nightly death toll.

Any Chicagoan who cares to pay attention can know who these people are and confront the reality that, for years on end, we have let this slaughter happen without treating it like a crisis of singular importance.

So Lightfoot’s job, in large part, will be to get people who don’t have to worry about violence in their neighborhoods to care about people who do.

Without that, the violence will go on, as it always has.


At the end of “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of an inability to progress: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

That’s Chicago and its endemic violence.

That’s your No. 1 priority, Mayor Lightfoot.

And I choose to be hopeful that you’re fit to fight the current that has long held this city back.