AUSTIN — Mayor Lori Lightfoot defended her no-nonsense approach to enforcing the city’s stay at home order during the coronavirus pandemic, a tactic that drew controversy in a viral video earlier this month.
Lightfoot discussed the issue in a virtual Q&A with activist Ja’Mal Green on Saturday. While her tactics have earned her praise for some — with memes highlighting a stern Lightfoot and comparing her to a mom ready to turn the car around, which she’s joked about — others have said she was too harsh when, as the video shows, she told a group of Black youths to go home May 2.
“I’m not going to apologize for caring about Black Chicago,” Lightfoot told Green.
The video showed Lightfoot with city officials and police officers — including new Police Supt. David Brown — approaching a group of young people on the West Side and telling them to go home. Just minutes beforehand, she’d finished a nearby press conference where she warned residents who are throwing parties throughout the city, violating orders that prohibit large gatherings.
The young men, on a playground and wearing masks, resisted the mayor when she told them to return home.
The video sparked a divided response and prompted questions about the mayor’s use of police to enforce the stay at home order, which critics say is disproportionately pressuring already over-policed Black neighborhoods on the South and West sides.
Some who commented on the video said the youths were disrespectful of the mayor and shouldn’t have been gathering. Others said the mayor never bothered to ask the group why they weren’t complying and missed an opportunity to start a dialogue with them, or that she would have approached the situation differently in a white community on the North Side.
Lightfoot said the mixed response to her strategy highlights a gap between older and younger Chicagoans. Residents older than 40 generally are more supportive of Lightfoot’s approach, she said.
The mayor reiterated her commitment to equity on the South and West sides of the city, and she said she is not using a heavier fist to enforce the stay at home order in Black communities.
The same day the video was recorded, Lightfoot said she heard several reports of gatherings on the North Side and sent police to disperse them.
“These issues of parties and congregating, they’re happening all over the city. They’re not limited to Black Chicago. They’re just not,” Lightfoot said.
Green suggested some young people haven’t been taking the stay at home order seriously because they don’t feel they are at risk.
“They say, ‘We dodge bullets every day. We ain’t scared of corona,'” Green said.
Lightfoot said the virus does not discriminate. People of any age can have chronic illnesses that makes them vulnerable to COVID-19, and 4,200 adults under the age of 30 have tested positive in Chicago, she said.
The mayor also warned young people could inadvertently expose their vulnerable loved ones if they aren’t careful.
“Part of the reason Black Chicago and Brown Chicago has really seen the uptick in cases and deaths is because we live in intergenerational households. That’s our great strength, but that’s a danger now in the time of COVID,” Lightfoot said.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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