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Get rid of the police or remove their handcuffs? Paul Wallace, Brandon Johnson deny controversial statements at public safety forum – Chicago Tribune


Chicago mayoral candidates Paul Wallace and Brandon Johnson had one thing in common during Tuesday’s public safety debate: They both denied making controversial comments attributed to them.

Asked about his previous support for the “defund the police” movement — including saying it was not a slogan but a “real political goal” — Johnson said: “I said it was a political goal. I never said it was mine.’

Meanwhile, Vallas was asked about his calls to “take the handcuffs off the police,” which he denied.

“Well, please let me know where I said that because … I avoided using that rhetoric and if I hadn’t I would have been surprised by that quote because I was careful not to say it,” Wallace said.

The exchanges showed how Vallas, a former Chicago Public Schools CEO backed by the Fraternal Order of Police, and Johnson, a Cook County commissioner backed by the Chicago Teachers Union, are trying to appeal to moderates ahead of the April 4 election.

Both answers were misleading.

Since 2020, Johnson has repeatedly made remarks supporting calls by activists to reallocate police budgets and direct funds to other agencies following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Since entering the mayor’s race, he has backed away from such calls and said he would keep the Police Department’s spending as it is.

However, he made efforts as a county commissioner to divert money from law enforcement agencies, including the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.

In 2020, Johnson spoke at a panel titled “We’re Not Calling the Police: A Town Hall on a Police-Free Future,” where he praised organizers for advancing “an agenda that can really change people’s lives.”

“And part of that is we’re moving away from this, you know, state police,” Johnson said.

He also criticized Mayor Laurie Lightfoot’s opposition to “police defunding,” saying the move was “not just admirable, but necessary.”

“We know that the mayor of Chicago has challenged this call to redirect money to defund this failed incarceration and police system,” Johnson said on a radio show he hosted in 2020. “So the president of the United States calls it a catchy hashtag or phrase, (or) Laurie Lightfoot, which I think is actually very disrespectful to young people who are literally putting their lives on the line for a cause that, frankly, is not simply admirable, but also necessary. »

Wallace, meanwhile, denied his comments against the idea of ​​”handcuffing” police officers and suggested moderators were confusing him with previous mayoral candidate Willie Wilson.

However, when he released his public safety plan in December, Vallas said he would repeal the rules, which WTTW said “literally handcuffed officers,” contributing to demoralization and making “active policing” impossible.

“It’s time to make criminal activity illegal again,” Wallace said. “People seem to be able to just commit crimes with impunity.” He also posted on Facebook and Twitter criticizing local leaders and state law for what he said were “handcuffing” the police.

Participants hold signs during a mayoral public safety forum with candidates Brandon Johnson and Paul Wallace at the University of Illinois at Chicago on March 14, 2023.

Both candidates opened the debate by arguing that Chicago police cannot solve the violence problem alone, but Johnson was more outspoken in his criticism of what he said has been City Hall’s focus on police in recent decades.

“Let me explain this: A lot of times when our people start providing services, the first thing people say is our services are failing our people, when we see prisons and incarceration failing our people,” Johnson said.

Johnson also got a response from Wallace when he took credit for what he called a capital-oriented budget passed by the Cook County Council, and that “I’m the only person on this stage who actually put forward a budget plan. » He also linked the property tax increase to Wallace, who chaired the county’s public school and budget division.

“I haven’t been a budget director in 25 years,” Wallace replied.

Regarding his plans to recruit retired officers to return, which has had poor results in some cities where it has been tried, Wallace said he would be able to recruit ex-cops if working conditions improve.

Johnson, meanwhile, said the standards are too strict, especially for black applicants.

“We’re great people who want to serve a system that didn’t serve us,” he said, before focusing on rebuilding trust in the Police Department, despite a high-profile case in which Lightfoot defended the department’s decision not to fire an officer linked to of the extremist group “Proud Boys”.

“Not to mention that you might have a colleague who was part of a white supremacist organization,” he said.

Wallace focused his few criticisms of Johnson on his Chicago police staffing plans, including that his opponent’s idea to promote 200 officers to detectives without a specific call to fill those positions would leave no shortage.

“Simply promoting 200 officers to the detective division, well, that’s not going to solve the crime problem in Chicago,” Wallace said.

Valas said that he would replenish the ranks of officers who left the department.

Johnson sarcastically asked in response, “So having detectives to solve crimes doesn’t solve crime in the city of Chicago?”

Wallace also explained his philosophy of “projective,” “community” policing during the forum. The candidate said the term is misconstrued as “mass incarceration” or “stop and frisk,” but actually involves training officers and deploying them “on every beat” to increase interaction with residents and build trust.

“The bottom line, as I’ve said over and over again in columns and so on, is to bring back active policing — and active policing consistent with the consent decree, and I’ve said it over and over and over again — active the police do not remove the handcuffs,” said Wallace.

He continued by laying out a vision of beating cops “who know the community and who are known by name and badge.”

“Community policing basically means you have patrol officers on every beat, so every beat is covered by an aerobatic patrol car,” Wallace said. “… And if you have enough police officers, and if you have enough detectives and you have a witness protection program, then police officers are going to be constantly interacting with the community.”

Johnson responded, “Yeah, why is it that when we talk about black and brown communities, we have to come up with new terms? I think the better question to ask is, why are we describing policing as a community effort only in black and brown communities?”


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