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Chicago’s notoriously violent summer months and the upcoming influx of huge sums of federal coronavirus stimulus money are setting up a showdown between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and activists over the best way to invest to try to curb shootings.
Lightfoot’s spending of federal stimulus funds during the COVID-19 pandemic has drawn loud criticism from some aldermen and activists, especially her decision last spring to use $281.5 million in CARES Act money on Police Department costs.
A Tuesday hearing of the City Council Health Committee gave activists a chance to push ideas for spending up to $1.9 billion in additional federal pandemic money the city will still receive.
They’re calling for Lightfoot to earmark millions of dollars for mental health programs, homeless services and other ideas to stem violence rather than using it to cover the cost of police patrolling Black and Latino neighborhoods where residents’ confidence in officers is at a low point.
But it remains to be seen whether the mayor takes up any of their plans.
Officials from the Police Department, the Park District and the mayor’s office on Tuesday also testified about their own plans for addressing summer violence through job and after-school programs with kids, community policing and other initiatives not designed in cooperation with Lightfoot critics.
With the weather heating up, North Side Ald. Maria Hadden, 49th, wondered where the coordination is from the mayor’s office and Police Department.
“I’m not feeling we’re being included in any of that planning,” Hadden said.
And Northwest Side Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez, 33rd, said the city talks about working to improve its commitment to helping people through social service agencies, but “most of the money is going to policing.”
During a news conference before the committee meeting, Pilsen Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th, called on Lightfoot to consider investing in policing alternatives. Sigcho-Lopez said he hadn’t discussed his ideas with the mayor’s office, but that he hoped Tuesday’s hearing would provide a starting point for those talks.