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Chicago At the Breaking Point

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eye on the news

Chicago At the Breaking Point

Can politics fuel a renaissance? December 20, 2021
Public safety
Politics and law
Economy, finance, and budgets

By the end of November, homicides in Cook County, which includes Chicago, reached 1,000 for the first time since 1994. A 71-year-old Chinese immigrant who came to the United States almost penniless and worked his way to success as a restaurant operator was shot 22 times and killed in broad daylight near his home. A Christmas-light decorator was killed in front of his home; several others, working for a neighborhood nonprofit, were mugged.

The fall season also kicked off a spree of organized looting at high-end city and suburban stores. Mask- and hoodie-clad thieves took an estimated $2 million of wristwatches from a Chicago showroom. Mayor Lori Lightfoot urged merchants to adopt the equivalent of lockdown retailing, with unrealistic security measures, such as putting all merchandise behind glass or chaining it down. Armed, chauffeured flash-mob robbery crews became common, expropriating valuables from pedestrians in North Side neighborhoods. On a Friday night, teens thronged downtown in another “wilding” spree and assaulted a bus driver. Beset by carjackings and armed robberies, the trendy Bucktown neighborhood hired private security.

A University of Chicago graduate student from China was killed in Hyde Park for the fast $100 sale of his phone and laptop, allegedly by a young parolee earlier convicted for juvenile armed robbery and carjacking. After the murder, the university’s president promised that the school’s best minds would develop policy solutions. But the university’s Crime Lab chalked up Chicago’s runaway violent crime largely to Covid and to mental illness, proposing federal infrastructure spending as a possible alleviant.

Our finest policy minds would do better to grapple with grave errors in the criminal-justice system. Cook County’s courts grant low-cash and no-cash bail repeatedly to suspects charged with violent crimes, who too often go on to re-offend. The Cook County sheriff’s office has repeatedly warned that it doesn’t have enough officers to enforce violations of home confinement through electronic monitoring. In 2016, state legislators rescinded a statute mandating prosecution of minors as adults for armed carjacking or robbery with a firearm. Juvenile carjacking and lax plea deals have proliferated, with some offenders graduating to adult carjacking, shootings, and murder. Thefts valued at more than $300 can be prosecuted as felonies in Illinois, but Cook County raised the felony theft bar to $1,000 in 2016. A state law ending cash bail takes effect in 2023. Cook County’s lax policies invite mayhem.

The city’s last Republican mayor left office in 1931. One-party rule has largely gripped Illinois as well. Periodic Republican governors are largely ineffectual, given a state legislature under Democratic control for decades. Poor public schools, massively underfunded state and city pensions, a high corporate tax rate of 9.5 percent, and the nation’s second-highest property-tax burden have spurred a sharp decline in the state’s population of children and prime working-age young adults.

Chicago elections are technically nonpartisan, but party politics remain plain for all. Democrats dominate the 50-member city council; six aldermen are socialists. Chicago Republican leader Steve Boulton says his party is seeking to rebrand as “rational, conservative, and pro-prosperity,” develop a Chicago platform, and seek candidates for city council and mayor in the linchpin year of 2023. He and other GOP figures continue to call out Democratic policies on crime and police. Illinois doesn’t lack well-heeled Republican benefactors who might aid in this effort. Foremost among them: hedge-fund titan Ken Griffin of Chicago-based Citadel, with a net worth north of $15 billion. Griffin warned this autumn that the corrosive effects of Chicago’s crime and Illinois’ fiscal malaise might compel Citadel to move its headquarters elsewhere. Or maybe it’s time for a wealthy donor to step forward and spearhead a campaign to recruit and support candidates for upcoming elections. The platform? Take back Chicago.

Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images

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