After only days in office, Memorial Day Weekend will be the first major test for Mayor Brandon Johnson and his interim police superintendent Fred Waller.
During a Thursday press conference, the duo pledged to tackle the violence that often accompanies the unofficial start of summer with a mix of enforcement, extra patrols and youth-centric activities around the city.
”My administration’s top priority is making sure there is a comprehensive, whole of government strategy across our city and that its making people safe,” Johnson said at a news conference surrounded by City department heads and community leaders.
The plan is centered around a series of activities and programs for young people funded by $3.5 million from the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities 8th annual Chicago Fund, expanded this year through a collaboration with Mayor Johnson that brought additional private funding to the grantmaking program."
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The Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities (PSPC) is funding 250 beneficiaries. Executive Director Esther Franco-Payne said her group plans to fund efforts like City of Refuge Chicago which will be using with their 2023 PSPC Chicago Fund grant to create the conditions for safety and peace like taking over hot spots in the Austin neighborhood and offering teens a chance to play sports in under-utilized spaces that typically attract violent activity.
Tamar Manasseah founded Mothers against Senseless Killing (MASK). Her group has been creating awareness near the intersection of 75th and Steward for the past 10 years.
“We built a community center in a vacant lot and we have seen crime drop astronomically,” she said. “We feel like that can happen anywhere.”
But the job of keeping the city safe will not be an easy one. Last year nine people were killed and more than 40 were wounded in the most violent Memorial Day Weekend in the last five years.
While the mayor’s plan fulfills his campaign promise to invest in people, some people who deal with city violence daily are optimistic but cautious.
“If it doesn’t work there is still care out there…there is still hope, but we have to be prepared,” said street pastor Donovan Price.
And the interim superintendent says each district has a plan that includes canceling one day off for all regular duty officers.
“We will also be looking out for any caravans, street takeovers and drag racing incidents while increasing police presence on public transit, retail corridors, parks and other high traffic areas,” Waller said.
Johnson said he is betting heavily on its new strategy, but he is willing to be “nimble” if circumstances change.
“This is not just simply a strategy around policing, you have a collaboration of people to insure that there is activity in Chicago,” he said.