CHICAGO - As Illinois’ senior U.S. senator revealed how dangerously close he came to a drive-by shooting in Chicago, former White House advisor David Axelrod urged Mayor Lori Lightfoot to declare a "public safety emergency."
Noting the FBI’s recent report that in 2020, killings in Chicago increased by 56% — and they’re even higher still so far in 2021 — Axelrod said, "it requires the mayor to do what mayors don't like to do, which is to say…’this is more than we can handle here at city government.’"
Axelrod said he was not blaming the surge of deadly violence on Lightfoot, noting that it’s long been a threat in Chicago. But he suggested voters may see things differently, a reason for her to convene a citywide response to the rising tide of bloodshed.
"If not," Axelrod added, "this is going to be on her account, if she runs for re-election in 2023."
Senator Durbin revealed a harrowing encounter with a gunman last weekend on Lake Shore Drive. He said he and his wife, Loretta, were returning from dinner downtown with another couple at about 10 p.m. on Saturday when suddenly loud shots rang out.
"It was stunning!" Durbin said. "I heard the popping sounds and I wasn't sure what happened!"
"It turned out to be the car next to us," Durbin added. "A driver was leaning out the window and shooting a gun in the air! He could've just as easily been shooting the gun at us. Sadly, that's what happens way too often … my wife and I and the other couple, we were lucky. It was just a joy rider. But he was using the gun in a way that I’d not seen before and I hope to never see again! But there are lots of people we know who aren't that lucky."
Given the economic damage caused by the current tidal wave of carjackings and killings, Axelrod said Lightfoot should be prepared to spend whatever it takes to stem the violence.
Axelrod said the mayor should ask every major corporation in the city to join the anti-violence effort. He suggested each company adopt a public school and that a broad group of schools should stay open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., providing their students three daily meals and protection from street violence.
Whether it’s finally starting a broad and effective witness protection program or hiring more police detectives, Axelrod said cost should not be a top concern. He said every logical proposal should be pursued.
"We need not just one idea. We need to do it all simultaneously," he said.
Both Axelrod and Durbin praised the Chicago CRED program run by Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education in the Obama Administration. Axelrod said such programs have to be expanded enormously, to engage as many as 20,000 young men. That’s one estimate of how many are involved in local violence, as perpetrators and as victims.
An analysis of participants in READI, another local anti-violence initiative, found 35% of the men involved had been shot, making them 45 times more likely to be gunned down than the average Chicagoan.
Although READI participants are typically just 24-years-old, they’ve been arrested an average of 17 times each.