CHICAGO — Police will arrest young people working at “drug corners” ahead of this Fourth of July weekend, the city’s top cop said during a Monday press conference.
Supt. David Brown said he hopes the effort can prevent shootings and homicides over the long weekend, especially as Chicago is already facing a sharp spike in violence.
It’s a strategy used previously by Chicago Police over holiday weekends, but it’s seldom been spelled out like Brown did. Brown’s remarks have led to criticism from people who say the arrests are a temporary measure that punishes young people but won’t have an effect on the city’s violence.
Brown, speaking to reporters Monday, said “evil, murdering b——s” employ “young kids” to sell drugs and hold guns at open air drug markets on street corners. Those kids are sometimes used in shootings, which can lead to retaliatory violence, Brown said.
Police plan to “clear the corners” so they can prevent some of the violence that centers around drugs and retaliatory shootings, Brown said when explaining how the department will try to prevent violence this weekend.
“We’re left with clearing the corner, because the corner is whether the violence is centered around because it’s so profitable,” Brown said.
Police officers will make arrests for the two things that lead to violence — unlawful use of weapons and open air drug markets — in the leadup to and during the weekend, Brown said.
“Our endgame is arrest for the precursors to violence. So every day we’re gonna be clearing corners, every day we’re gonna be clearing these drug corners to protect young people from violence,” Brown said.
Police are pleading with courts to “keep ’em in jail through the weekend” to keep down violence, Brown said.
The plan has been sharply critiqued by experts and advocates who say it could do far more harm than good.
“The plan to sweep up Black and Brown young men in their neighborhoods across the City could have been uttered by a number of [Brown’s] predecessors in leadership of the CPD,” Karen Sheley, Police Practices project director of ACLU of Illinois, said in an emailed statement. “We have heard this all before — paternalistic claims that young men should be in jail for their own safety.
“This approach only further drives a wedge between the CPD and communities of color. The superintendent again offers the dangerous suggestion that time in Cook County Jail is for these young people’s own good. This is a terrible idea in the best of times. In the midst of a pandemic, it could be a death sentence for these young men or members of their family on release.”
Robert Vargas, a University of Chicago sociologist, told WBEZ the “idea is potentially disastrous.”
“Communities are tired of these interactions with the police. If you’re trying to arrest your way out of this problem, it’s not going to work,” Vargas told WBEZ.
Throughout June — and for long before then — activists have been protesting, marching and rallying, calling on police to stop brutalizing and over-policing people of color.
Calls for the defunding of police have gotten louder, with many advocates saying the Chicago Police Department should receive less funding so money can instead go to social service and health care work to prevent crime and help residents.
Brown said the arrests won’t be a permanent solution to gun violence, but police officers can use the time they’re driving a young person to a police station to talk to them, Brown said.
“… We need to start mentoring these young people on that ride to jail. But we have to offer them options,” Brown said. “If we say, ‘Get off the corner and stop the behavior of selling drugs, carrying a gun,’ we have to, as a city, to be able to say, ‘And let me introduce you to an option that will help you provide for your family so that you don’t see this as the only option.’
“That’s beyond policing, but it is policing … .”
Uultimately, police officers aren’t interested in imprisoning the young people who are manipulated into selling drugs or holding guns for “mastermind” gang members, Brown said. If they imprison one, another young person will just take their spot, like a “revolving door.”
The system “protects the mastermind and it puts us in the position to arrest young people and put them in the pipeline to prison, which we don’t want to do …,” Brown said. “So we’re left with this mess as police officers because of poverty, because of no economic development, because of all the shortcomings in social service [agencies].
“This is the complexity of Chicago’s violence.”
The department does plan to take other measures, Brown said, like having an extra 1,200 officers on the streets Thursday through Sunday to prevent and respond to violence. Officers will get one day off during the long weekend.
The officers will be deployed in “hot spots” in the city. Brown didn’t say where those are, but he said the department is using data from past Fourth of July weekends, among other metrics, to determine where officers might be most needed.
Officers are also working with violence interrupters and other groups to prevent violence, Brown said.
The holiday weekend typically sees a spike in shootings and murders — and Chicago’s already been struggling with rising gun violence and the recent slayings of children, including two this weekend.
Brown acknowledged this weekend could be different from past Fourth of July weekends because there has been recent violence and more unrest amid the coronavirus pandemic and since police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.