Mayor Lightfoot Continues Attacks on Bond Reform, Further Backtracking on Criminal Justice Reform Campaign Promises

 In General

For the last several months, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has claimed she is taking action to hold Chicago Police “accountable” with her “Accountability Monday” press conferences. During the press conferences themselves, however, she has stood alongside Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson as he has spread lies about ongoing efforts to reform Cook County’s bond (bail) system. Earlier this week, this false narrative was taken a step further when Lightfoot and Johnson delivered alarming misinformation to the press about two arrests that occurred the previous weekend. Lightfoot claimed that two individuals with “extensive criminal histories” who were arrested with automatic weapons were released after paying a $1,000 money bond. Nearly all of the information the Mayor provided press turned out to be false. One of the men mentioned remains in jail on an order of no bail (detention) and will remain in custody for the duration of his case. The other man has no criminal history and was placed on house arrest with electronic monitoring after paying a $1,000 bond. Electronic monitoring is extremely restrictive; while on EM, an individual cannot leave their home without explicit permission from the Sheriff’s Office, even for basic tasks such as grocery shopping or going to the doctor. It is so restrictive, in fact, that it is considered a form of custody for which people receive credit toward any sentence in the case. The implication that this individual was moving freely within in the community is quite simply false.

On Monday, August 5, 2019, Superintendent Eddie Johnson also unveiled CPD’s “Gun Offender Dashboard.” This website publishes the names of all people arrested on a felony firearm-related charges, tracks the bond decisions that judges issue and notes whether the person accused has “bonded out” of Cook County Jail. The use of the word “offender” in this context is in and of itself offensive and blatantly inaccurate. The people whose information is documented in this dashboard have not been convicted of the crimes listed and are presumed innocent. The data contained within this dashboard is also misleading. It provides only two categories: “bonded” or “in custody,” and listed everyone given a money bond as “bonded,” regardless of whether the person has actually paid the bond and secured release. In addition, many people listed as “bonded” are in fact detained in jail on no-bail orders in other cases. There is also no mention of whether people are being detained in their homes on electronic monitoring or subject to other conditions of supervision upon release. Most disturbingly, at least one of the individuals on the “bonded” list is deceased. This dashboard is a prop in the CPD’s fearmongering campaign, which it uses to keep itself funded and empowered to terrorize our communities. The dashboard drags the names of people who have not been convicted of a crime through the mud and treats them as if they are guilty until proven innocent. Later in the week, Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli called on the Chicago Police Department to take down the website. We fully support this demand.

This pro-incarceration rhetoric from Lightfoot and Johnson seems almost deliberately calculated to distract from and obscure the truth. The reality is that changes to Cook County’s bond system have prevented thousands of people from experiencing unjust, wealth-based pretrial incarceration without risking public safety. From October 2017 through March 2019, 37,233 people accused of felonies had bond hearings in Cook County, and 30,466 of them were released to the community as they awaited trial. Of those 30,466 people who were released, only 70 (0.2%, or one fifth of one percent), were subsequently arrested and accused of committing a new violent offense that involved a gun.

The lies being told by the Chicago Police Department and Mayor Lightfoot are no different than the misinformation spread by Ivanka Trump on Tuesday. Ivanka took to Twitter to claim that there were “7 dead and 52 wounded near a playground in the Windy City” from gun violence over the weekend. This statement is demonstrably false and was intended to minimize the violence in El Paso and Dayton while demonizing Chicagoans and calling for more incarceration and policing of Black and Brown people in Chicago. It is shameful that Johnson and Lightfoot are also exploiting the tragedies of white supremacist violence to justify taking away the right to pretrial freedom from thousands of people across Cook County, the overwhelming majority of whom are succeeding pretrial when given the opportunity. 

Lightfoot and Johnson’s lies have the power to cause immense harm to communities that are already under siege from aggressive policing, mass criminalization, and economic disinvestment. Cook County has shown that bond reform is possible and that pretrial freedom does not put community safety at risk. Gun violence is a serious issue impacting our communities, but we cannot address it by taking away the rights of people accused of crimes. To address gun violence in Chicago, we must address the economic violence and racism that has destabilized our communities and made people feel unsafe in their own neighborhoods. We must invest in resources that actually keep our communities safe, such as good neighborhood schools, mental health care services, job opportunities, and affordable housing. 

Lori Lightfoot was elected on a platform that promised further progressive reform of the criminal justice system and a holistic approach to gun violence that focused on prevention and community investment. She has turned her back on those promises by continuing to peddle the lies put forward by the Chicago Police Department. To live up to her campaign promises, Lightfoot must join advocates and impacted communities in protecting and advancing the important and effective reforms to Cook County’s pretrial justice system.

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