CHICAGO - Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday responded to a recent spate of shootings targeting three law enforcement officers in the last week with her most vociferous attack to date on criminal court judges.
Lightfoot has repeatedly responded to Chicago’s seemingly relentless gang violence by alternately targeting State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Tim Evans, chief judge of the Cook County Circuit Court system.
Hours after Chicago Police Officer Fernanda Ballesteros was released from the University of Chicago Medical Center to the cheers of her fellow officers, Lightfoot seemingly let Foxx off the hook and unleashed her anger and frustration on criminal court judges.
"We don’t want to turn Cook County jail into a debtor’s prison. Nobody thinks that’s a good idea. We shouldn’t be locking up non-violent individuals just because they can’t afford to pay a bail," said Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor.
"But, given the exacting standards that the state’s attorney has for charging a case—which is proof beyond a reasonable doubt—when those charges are brought, these people are guilty. Of course they’re entitled to a presumption of innocence. Of course they’re entitled to their day in court. But, residents in our community are also entitled to safety from dangerous people."
To provide public safety, Lightfoot said the powers that be need to keep pressuring criminal court judges to "lock up dangerous, violent people and not put them out on bail or electronic monitoring back into the very same communities where brave souls are mustering the courage to come forward and say, `This is the person who is responsible.’ "
"That undermines safety. It tells the victims that there’s no justice for them. And it undermines the legitimacy of the criminal courts," she said.
"If we hold violent, dangerous people accountable, we will see a significant drop in the violence in our cities. But, when you’ve got somebody who’s accused of murder, attempted murder, rape, kidnapping, carjacking, as is now, these people are walking the streets right now today in our communities because our criminal courts are not doing their job and taking into consideration the danger to the community."
When somebody who "has a rap sheet as long as my arm" commits another act of violence, "They are a danger to the community by definition and should be held pre-trial," the mayor said.
"No one is gonna feel safe as long as those folks are back out on the street 24 or 48 hours later after they go through bond court. It’s madness," she said.
In response to the mayor’s comments, Cook County Public Defender Sharone R. Mitchell Jr. said in a statement Monday, "For decades, the city has shamefully disregarded the presumption of innocence — which applies to everyone, regardless of the charge against them. As an attorney, the mayor knows that the criminal justice system is not designed to decide guilt early in a case."
"In the long run, putting increasing numbers of people in jail while awaiting trial causes more harm to our communities," Mitchell said. "Truly supporting people with sufficient resources in their communities is the only way to achieve safety."
She and her partner had tried to stop a car that afternoon, but it sped off, then slowed allowing the officers to pull alongside, police said last week. Shots were fired from the car and Ballesteros, a three-year Chicago Police Department veteran, was hit in her shoulder.
Her partner jumped into the driver’s seat and took her to the hospital, where she had been listed in critical-but-stable condition. Police internally identified a suspect last week, but no arrests have been reported.