Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot has perhaps not has as much national media attention as Bill de Blasio in New York City, but she has stepped gleefully into the role of tyrant none the less.
Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order that began on March 21. It was originally to run through April 7, but it was extended to April 30 on March 31. When NBC Chicago reported on Pritzker’s original order it also quoted Lightfoot as saying, “I want to say to be clear, this is not a lockdown, it’s not martial law.” She said that grocery stores would remain open and stocked and no one needed to change their shopping habits or hoard anything. At the same time, though, Lightfoot shut down the city’s parks and libraries.
An Associated Press report on April 11 quoted Lightfoot saying of people who had gone to Chicago parks and trails during a day of 70-degree weather, “Your conduct — yours — is posing a direct threat to our public health.” Lightfoot reported that she has personally ordered groups of people outside in one Chicago neighborhood to “break it up” and said, “I mean what I say. We have to protect ourselves. We have to be smart about what we’re doing in the course of this pandemic. And if it means that I drive around and check whether or not people are in compliance, I am happy to do it.”
Around that same time Lightfoot was announcing to national media that COVID-19 was killing a disproportionate number of African Americans because, in her words, “In many of our African-American households, they don’t have three, four floors where they can separate themselves.” She told PBS News reporter Yamiche Alcindor that she was 100% right in suggesting that social distancing is a privilege for some and that, nationwide, African Americans are more likely to have to take public transportation and less likely to be able to work from home. She told Alcindor that data on the racial breakdown of COVID-19 deaths was “absolutely essential.” I am not sure what racial data has to do with combating COVID-19, but since Mayor Lightfoot thinks it matters I would like to remind her that the rate of abortions among African Americans is nearly three times higher than it is among Caucasian women according to the Guttmacher Institute. It is true, according to the website blackdemographics.com, that the percentage of African American COVID-19 deaths is higher than the African American percentage of the state population in a number of states. But it is also true that it is lower than the population percentage in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio and Washington and is exactly the same in New Jersey. According to APM Research lab, African Americans do have a disproportionate percentage of COVID-19 deaths overall, but in Texas, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Washington, Idaho and Colorado Caucasians are dying at disproportionate rates, in Alaska, Oregon, California and Vermont Asians are and in New York, New Hampshire and Missouri Latinos are.
Interestingly, just yesterday the Chicago Sun-Times reported, “Four weeks ago, Latinos comprised 14 percent of Chicago’s coronavirus cases and 9 percent of the deaths. Now, it’s 37 percent of the cases and 25 percent of the deaths — in a city where 29 percent of the population is Hispanic.” How did Lightfoot respond? She “expanded the scope of the ‘racial equity rapid response teams’ first created to address the spike in cases among Chicago’s African American residents.” I think the fact that there even is such a thing as “racial equity rapid response teams” speaks for itself. COVID-19 is a big enough mess already without trying to make it a racial issue, but Lightfoot couldn’t pass up the opportunity. “There are consequences of the president’s hateful, xenophobic demonization of this community,” she said, insisting that President Trump’s position in immigrants was responsible for the surge in Latino cases.
On May 3, the AP reported Lightfoot as “warning decisive actions will be taken against city residents who flout Illinois’ stay at home order by holding house parties.” The day before, Amanda Vinicky, of WTTW News, had provided more detail, reporting that Lightfoot had complained of the lack of compliance with Chicago’s restrictions, saying of them, “Your actions are going to make a difference whether we get out sooner than later. Whether we have a summer or not. I’m not going to allow any individuals to upend the progress that we’ve made.”
Indeed, Lightfoot had said on May 2, regarding people having parties,
We will shut you down. We will cite you and if we need to, we will arrest you and we will take you to jail. Period. Don’t make us treat you like a criminal, but if you act like a criminal and you violate the law and you refuse to do what is necessary to save lives in this city during a pandemic we will take you to jail, period.
She added, “We are watching.” Then Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said that the CPD would “be on the lookout for gatherings large and small.” He continued, “Don’t leave your house unless absolutely necessary. Don’t invite people over either. Chicagoans have done too much good thus far to risk a spike in cases of this deadly virus.”
Of course, what good the restrictions have done and what progress has been made is unclear. Last weekend Chicago passed 1,000 COVID-related deaths. The Chicago Tribune reported that Lightfoot said at that time that the city had made only “slight progress” in dealing with the virus. If you look at the reports of numbers in Illinois as a whole and Chicago specifically, there is virtually no evidence that the city’s strict shut down orders have made any difference.
Some folks are starting to notice the use of power and accompanying lack of success. Many people are willing to abide a temporary excessive use of authority when it proves to be beneficial, but Lightfoot is not showing any results. So unhappy with Lightfoot’s use of power during her COVID response that, according to Crain’s Chicago Business, “City Council’s budget chair has convened a working group of rivals to meet weekly and keep an eye on COVID-related spending.”
Oh, and by the way… Lightfoot might not mind patrolling the streets to yell at everyone else to get inside, but she doesn’t seem to think the restrictions she has placed on others apply to her. In April she got a haircut from a stylist despite the fact that Governor Pritzker’s state-wide order shut down salons and barbershops. When Lightfoot faced criticism for her choice she did not back down or acknowledge a lapse in judgment. Instead, she whipped out the “I’m more important than you” card, explaining, “I’m the public face of this city. I’m on national media and I’m out in the public eye.”
Maybe so, Mayor Lightfoot. But don’t be surprised if the voters of Chicago decide they want a different “public face” next time they go to the mayoral polls.
Photo credit: lightfootforchicago.com/about-lori/