Chicago mayor wants tamale vendors to go cashless to prevent robberies, opponent suggests hunting down fleeing suspects ‘like rabbits’

The possible future of Chicago policing. | Warner Brothers

Chicago police should run after fleeing suspects and “hunt them down like a rabbit.”

Too terrified to work, thanks to a wave of robberies by heavily armed men, Little Village street vendors should protect themselves by converting to cashless payment systems.

Those public safety improvement ideas, offered by Willie Wilson and Mayor Lori Lightfoot respectively, stood out among a sea of well-worn talking points during a televised debate of mayoral candidates on Thursday evening.

Wilson repeatedly talked about easing restrictions on the city’s cops.

“Take the handcuffs off policeman, put on people who is actually doing it,” the millionaire businessman suggested early in the debate. He later claimed police are “afraid to arrest somebody for fear they they’re gonna get arrested themselves.”

But he saved his most colorful iteration of the idea, referring to CPD limitations on foot and vehicle pursuits, for his closing statement: “We’ll be tough on crime. We’ll remove all the restriction things from our police officer. Somebody run, chase somebody by foot, car, that police officer should be able to chase them down and hunt them down like a rabbit, okay?

With the Little Village robberies and hold-ups of postal carriers as background, the candidates were asked to detail their plan to protect workers “who have to go out on the street day in and day out to make ends meet.”

“We’ve been in Little Village working with those vendors hand in glove to make sure that they are doing things that they can do to protect themselves,” Lightfoot replied. “Like not using cash. Making sure that the cash they do take in is secure.”

The mayor then repeated the idea that street vendors, like tamale cart operators, should “not use money if at all possible, [use] other forms of transactions.”

Her eyebrow-raising insistence that tamale cart vendors should convert to electronic payment systems to thwart armed robbery crews spread quickly online.

“Lightfoot is so disconnected from immigrants in her city that she didn’t even think that maybe some of them don’t have banking or credit cards,” tweeted Ambar Colón, a journalist at the Sun-Times and La Voz.

Top priority

The debate started with the candidates being asked to name their “top priority to make people feel safer” in Chicago.

Wilson said he would add police, raise the CPD retirement age from 63 to 65 “until we get back up to speed,” and talked about loosening restrictions on police.

Brandon Johnson, who claimed that a bullet came through the window of his family’s home, pooh-poohed the other candidates’ ideas as the “same old talking points from 40 years ago that has failed. This so-called toughness. And do you feel any safer?”

Johnson called for “full investment” in youth employment and mental health care.

Paul Vallas proposed putting cops on the CTA and staffing every police beat. He highlighted CPD’s “inability” to respond to in-progress calls as a driver of crime.

Lightfoot claimed that her administration made progress on crime “year over year” and pointed to the need to hire more police, adding that CPD on-boarded 950 cops in 2022.

Jesús “Chuy” García promised “new leadership in the Chicago Police Department” and investments in violence prevention.

“Building trust between community residents and the police is at the heart of ensuring that we have a safer Chicago,” said García.

Ja’Mal Green took a direct shot at Lightfoot: “I’m trying to figure out, how do we continue to allow the mayor to lie about the [crime] numbers? We are not down when it comes to before her administration started.”

“Last year was a 25-year-high [in murders]. So, of course we’re going to have some sort of a decrease. We’ve had 700-plus homicides for three years in a row under the mayor. And she has not been connected to the neighborhoods or what’s going on on the ground. We need to stop lying about the numbers.”

Worker safety

Asked for a plan to protect workers like postal carriers and tamale vendors, the candidates offered mostly familiar solutions.

“We need more police,” Ald. Sophia King said. “They are not equitably distributed.

She pointed to a recent 911 call in her ward that reported men with guns and the police didn’t show up because they were busy somewhere else.

Later, during closing statements, King said that the “number one” request her ward office receives is for more police presence “because of this unwieldy crime”

“Now, we know that police aren’t the only solution. We need to get to the root causes.”

“We know that we can both uplift the police and hold them accountable,” King offered.

Kam Buckner said he talked to tamale vendors in Little Village. He recommended coordination with local business groups and changing the boundaries of CPD’s 22 patrol districts to put resources in the right place.

Wilson: “You have to add more police officer. You must take some of these rules off the police officer and making sure they can do their job and do it the proper way.”

“People cannot be scared doing their job,” Wilson reiterated.

Johnson repeated a favorite talking point: “You actually have to invest in people … There’s a direct correlation between youth employment and violence reduction.”

He proposed increasing the use of non-police responses to mental health incidents so more cops are available to handle calls for service.

Lightfoot had a different view.

“We don’t protect workers, we don’t protect residents, by blaming the police for not showing up, for not making arrests, for not responding to calls,” she said, before offering her non-cash transaction idea.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer, the son of a former Chicago mayor, pointed to a need for immediate and long-term plans.

“I do understand about long term solutions and investments in people. I get that,” Sawyer said. “Those workers want to be protected right now.”

He would make sure beat cops work the same areas every day to get to know the vendors and workers.

“Walking the streets, walking beats, being visible where they can see them and also be a deterrent to criminals.”

Garcia: “There’s an 85% chance that you can get away with murder and not be convicted. It has emboldened criminals to go out there and prey on people trying to make an honest living.”

“What I would do is prioritize violent crime. I would move some of the citywide [police] units to patrolling streets in neighborhoods … I would hire more civilians to free up uniform personnel.”

Speaking last on the topic, Green cited a need for “new technology. Call stations at every main street. New light poles so it’s more lit.”

He suggested a jobs program for young people.

“We got lead pipes. We can have a massive jobs program so that we can get folks to change our lead pipes in the city of Chicago because it is environmentally hazardous.”

Election day is February 28. If no mayoral candidate wins 50% of the vote, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will be held on April 4.

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