- State representative Ken Dunkin says Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police chief Garry McCarthy have shown “abysmal ineptitude” in dealing with violence.
State rep Ken Dunkin says he’s had enough and so have his constituents. “After three years now, this mayor and this so-called chief of police can’t figure out what the hell to do,” he says. “The least the mayor could do is terminate Garry McCarthy immediately and get a superintendent who knows this city and is moving toward some strategies that will save it.”
In short, Dunkin isn’t pleased, and he speaks for a growing number of south- and west-siders.
Last weekend, in what’s become a rite of spring, the casualty count rose along with the temperature, and by the time Easter was over at least nine people had been killed and more than 40 others shot.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and McCarthy responded much the way they did during previous outbreaks of violence. Both stressed that overall crime rates have been dropping to levels not seen in decades. Then Emanuel called for better parenting and more personal responsibility, while the police superintendent blamed the bloodshed on the state legislature for failing to toughen penalties for gun offenders.
“The gun violence in this city is the result of lax gun laws, period,” McCarthy told WGN-TV. “It couldn’t be more clear what we need to do.” But, he added, “at this point the black caucus has blocked it based upon the question of mass incarceration, which is obviously an issue.”
McCarthy went on to acknowledge that the county jail and state prisons are packed, in part because they’re housing thousands for nonviolent drug offenses. But he kept delivering his not-so-subtle message: people are still shooting each other and black legislators are allowing it to happen. “There’s no magic here,” he said.
You could say that Dunkin took note. He represents a district that runs from the remnants of Cabrini-Green, where he grew up, through downtown and the heart of the south side. A former social worker, he’s served in Springfield for 12 years and is one of the leaders of the legislative black caucus.
Dunkin says he’s never seen anyone keep their jobs after displaying such “abysmal ineptitude” as McCarthy and Emanuel.
“First of all, no one cares more about ending Chicago’s devastating plague of gun violence than the members of the black caucus,” he says. “But the fact is that [McCarthy] and the mayor are not only embarrassed by this among their elite cohorts, but they both have failed the citizens of this state and the city.”
Dunkin says he agrees with Emanuel to a point. “I’m a huge critic of the population of the black community and the Latino community enabling these criminals to exist. We all need personal responsibility. But if the people in our city had the faith and confidence that we would enjoy the same levels of police protection everywhere as they do in the Lincoln Park community, you’d see far more cooperation in reducing crime. At this point the faith and confidence in McCarthy is nonexistent.”
But even if crime statistics are trending downward, Dunkin says citizens across the city, including many he represents on the Gold Coast, feel less safe than they have in a generation.
He argues that the root causes of violence are best addressed through education and improved job prospects, and that one of his responsibilities is to help bring funding for such efforts to the city. But he says that, at the very least, the superintendent needs to develop a policing strategy that citizens believe will work. “That’s his job to figure out,” he says of McCarthy. “That’s why he gets paid.”
Dunkin says Emanuel has also failed to give the police department the resources it needs. “Why the mayor isn’t living up to his promise to put more officers on the street is befuddling to every half-intelligent person in the state,” he says.
Hiring more police is expensive, Dunkin notes, but “the benefit is the fewer gunshot victims we have entering the county trauma center, and the [reduced] bloodshed. That’s what the police are talking about and that’s what the citizens are talking about.”
The mayor’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Adam Collins, a spokesman for McCarthy, said in an e-mailed statement that despite progress, “we all know there’s much more work to do and no one will rest until everyone enjoys the same sense of safety.”
But, Collins added, “even with the best policing and strongest prevention in the world, without better gun laws we’re going to face an uphill battle.”
It’s standard practice for city leaders to call for tougher gun laws amid spates of violence—Mayor Richard M. Daley did it for years, both because he was a true believer in gun control and because it was politically advantageous among voters in a Democratic city.
Emanuel and McCarthy have pursued the same political strategy, and last year they zeroed in on the penalties for carrying illegal guns. Though the offenses already carry mandatory minimum sentences of up to two years, a bill supported by City Hall would have extended them by a year.
A host of academics, activists, and politicians—including but not limited to the black caucus—fought the proposal, arguing that it would swell the prison population while doing nothing to deter those who are already inclined to break the law and shoot someone. The bill stalled out last fall.
In the time since, its chief sponsor, southwest-side Rep Michael Zalewski, has introduced legislation that would ease penalties for marijuana possession. He stresses that he doesn’t want to lock more people up—just the right people. “Let’s have a full conversation about criminal justice reform in Illinois,” Zalewski says. “We have so many people sitting in prison for things they don’t need to be incarcerated for, like low-level amounts of drugs, or driving on a revoked license.”
McCarthy made a similar argument on WGN, suggesting that drug possessors were consuming space and resources that would be better put toward cracking down on illegal guns. Nearly one-fifth of state prison inmates are in for drug offenses, compared with 6 percent for weapons offenses. “What is the priority of our laws in this state?” McCarthy said.
He didn’t mention that police under his command make most of the drug arrests, including dozens a day for carrying small amounts of pot.
For Dunkin, it was too little too late. He says the gun sentencing proposal is still a losing idea, even if it’s presented with a sweetener. “Obviously, what Chicago needs is a superintendent of police who’s more interested in promoting real solutions to crime than he is in promoting failed policies at the state level,” Dunkin says. “I mean, every single weekend, every single month, when the weather is above 60, the same neighborhoods, the same minorities, are catching the brunt end of the violence. Stevie Wonder can see that from L.A.”