In a runoff election on April 2, Chicago elected Lori Lightfoot the nation’s first Black lesbian mayor. But Lightfoot’s win isn’t the victory it seems.
While the news media praises Lightfoot as a trailblazer presiding over the nation’s third largest city, some of the constituents she will serve are less enthused. Lightfoot’s political hurdles are the perception that she is too pro-police and too detached from the troubles of certain Chicagoans. In other words, queerfolk and skinfolk ain’t necessarily kinfolk.
The Chicago Police Department (CPD) is known for corruption and has been home to some terrible police officers. In 2016, Juleyka Lantigua-Williams wrote about the opening of the Chicago Torture Archive at the University of Chicago. The purpose of the database was to compile digital information — interrogations, trial documents, journalistic and activist reports — that chronicle 20 years of police misconduct, starting in the 1970s. The collection has struggled to deal with privacy issues, but the data is no less evident.
The Chicago Tribune recently published a deep dive on John Burge, the former CPD commander who was convicted of lying about torturing suspects in 2010. And after the release of dash cam footage that showed Officer Jason Van Dyke murder Laquan McDonald, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) opened an investigation. They found that “CPD officers engage in a pattern or practice of using force, including deadly force, that is unreasonable.” They also hit the Department for endangering public safety by exhibiting “poor discipline” when firing their weapons. A few years earlier, Detective Dante Servin (who was off duty at the time) opened fire on an unarmed group of people when he mistook a cell phone for a gun, and ended 22-year-old Rekia Boyd’s life. Servin was charged with involuntary manslaughter. But he was acquitted by a jury who found his fear justifiable, and thus the discharge of his weapon, and his killing of an innocent, unarmed woman, fair game.
Enter Lori Lightfoot. Chicago’s latest Mayor-elect began her career as a federal prosecutor. She was later appointed by Mayor Richard Daly to lead the Office of Professional Standards (OPS) for the CPD. One of Lightfoot’s deepest criticisms is that she represents a culture of political leadership that is too lenient in its response police violence. When Former Mayor Emmanuel appointed Lightfoot to head the Police Task Force in 2016, Chicago’s BYP100 chapter released a statement that read in part, “Democratic police accountability does not look like Lori Lightfoot continuing to disrespect the families of people lost to police terrorism.”
Lightfoot has branded herself a progressive politician. However, despite her identities as a queer Black woman, activists say she’s tethered herself to supporting systems that often marginalize Chicago’s communities of color, low-income, and queer communities. The #stoplightfoot campaign was vigilant is its opposition to her candidacy. And in the wake of Lightfoot’s victory, activists have vowed to hold her feet to the fire, as is their democratic duty.
Say Mayor-elect Lightfoot had a chance to impress her most critical constituents. How would she handle it?
Fallout from the Jussie Smollett saga represented an opportunity for Lightfoot to show progressive bona fides. If Jussie did indeed orchestrate a fake attack, the public shaming and thousands of dollars in fines could be punishment enough, no? CPD was big mad that they “wasted resources” by investigating Jussie’s claims. No mention, however, of the hundreds of millions of dollars the city has paid for police misconduct. Hundreds of millions the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board says is “financially breaking our city.”
When asked about Smollett after her victory, Lightfoot could have said, “I’m off that. We have more pressing priorities in the city of Chicago.” Instead, Lightfoot wants to make sure Smollett is held accountable for his alleged crimes. Chicago’s law enforcement community has more energy for prosecuting fake crimes than for the real ones their officers commit. Once again, Lightfoot established where her loyalties lie.
I’m not writing off Lightfoot just yet. She’s got time to become a great public servant. Meanwhile, I suspect the pressure from activists won’t let up. And it shouldn’t. There is much work left to do.
Cover photo: Manuel Martinez