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More Federal Gun Prosecutions Needed In Chicago, Says Police Board Leader


Now we'd like to get perspective from someone who's responsible for holding the police accountable. Lori Lightfoot is a former federal prosecutor who serves as president of the Chicago Police Board. She also chairs Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Police Accountability Task Force which investigates the police department and recommends changes. Lori Lightfoot helped write a report last year which included data on how the Chicago Police Department disproportionately targets African-Americans with more than 100 recommendations to improve relations in the neighborhoods they serve. I started our conversation by asking her thoughts on what needs to happen to reduce violence especially gun violence in Chicago.

LORI LIGHTFOOT: We need to have more federal gun prosecutions in Chicago. Our federal partners from the U.S. attorney's office, the ATF, the FBI need to be much more invested in this overall strategy. Chicago Police Department cannot tackle this issue by itself. This is not a problem that we're going to arrest our way out of. We're dealing with a huge re-entry problem - literally thousands of people coming back from the Illinois Department of Corrections to the same communities that they left, and those communities just don't have the resources right now to absorb that huge influx of re-entry. So we've got to tackle that problem. It's not sexy. It's not popular, but if we're going to really get at the root causes of a lot of this gun violence, we've got to deal with these issues as well.

MARTIN: I do want to ask you about the relationship between the police and the communities that they are working in. How would you describe it? And how - is that relevant?

LIGHTFOOT: It's highly relevant. Community engagement, respectful engagement has to be as important a tool for law enforcement as their gun and their badge. And it's something that has - is clearly fractured, clearly broken. And I know Superintendent Johnson has spent a lot of time himself working on it. But it's got to be an ethos that is embraced by every single sworn member of the department. If police officers are viewed by people in the community as a foreign, invading entity, they will never be successful.

MARTIN: Do you believe that after so many years of hostility between the police and the community that it is possible to repair this relationship?

LIGHTFOOT: Well, I think it has to be. In Chicago, we are in a state of crisis. We need all hands on deck. I think there has to be a continued acknowledgement of the checkered past in the relationships between the community and the police. And the Police Department has to take responsibility and ownership of that issue.

In our history in this country, the police have been used as a bludgeon against communities of color, particularly black folks in the segregated South and frankly in the North in enforcing Jim Crow laws. We know that history, so this is not an easy and delicate topic. But it's one that we have to dive in, we have to embrace because I said before I'm 100 percent convinced that if we don't take steps in each other's direction to try to address this strained and fractured relationship, those communities that are most in need, those people that are most desperate for quality and effective policing, they're going to be further victimized by the failure in that relationship. And we can't afford that to happen.

MARTIN: That's Lori Lightfoot. She is president of the Chicago Police Board Chair of the police accountability task force in the city. She was kind enough to join us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. Lori Lightfoot, thank you so much for speaking with us.

LIGHTFOOT: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.