‘I feel very strongly we can’t cancel our history,’ Lightfoot says at local luncheon. Monuments, crime, schools among the topics
by BRIAN NADIG
The impact of “cancel culture”on public art was one of several topics discussed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a March 10 virtual luncheon held by Alderman Samantha Nugent (39th) and local business groups.
“I feel very strongly we can’t cancel our history,” Lighfoot said.
The city recently launched the Chicago Monuments Project in which feedback is being taken on about 40 statues and plaques on display in parks and along the public way. They include depictions of Native Americans and statues of several former presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Ulysses Grant.
The list was created due to concerns the displays promote white supremacy or memorialize individuals with connections to racist acts, slavery and genocide; present selective, oversimplified views of history; or create tension between people who see value in these artworks and those who do not. The list is posted at www.chicagomonuments.org.
Lightfoot said that she understands the concerns given that “someone like me would never be … in power” at time when these presidents served but that the debate should take into consideration the “appropriate historical context.”
While Lincoln may have been “flawed,” he was a “great leader” who ultimately kept the country together, Lightfoot said.
Nugent said that her office has received quite a few inquiries about the monument issue and that she reminds callers that those represented in the statues are “mortals (and) people are imperfect.” She added, “It’s art for a lot of people and the artist’s perspective.”
The luncheon’s sponsoring organizations were the Edgebrook-Sauganash and Gladstone Park chambers of commerce, the Pulaski Elston Business Association and Peterson and Pulaski Business and Industrial Council. The event included Nugent’s annual state-of-the-ward address.
On the issue of crime, Lighfoot said that the clearance rate on homicides has jumped from the “teens” to about 50 percent due to in large part to advancements in technology, including surveillance cameras. “It’s a game changer. It makes a huge, huge difference,” she said.
Nugent said that she is working on securing funding to add “license plate reader” technology to police observation cameras being installed at the intersections of Elston and Milwaukee avenues and Kedzie and Bryn Mawr avenues.
Lightfoot said that the backlog of criminal court trials due to the pandemic is having an impact on crime. “Our criminal courts have not had any trial in a year,”she said. “What I fear is it’s going to take years to recover. … It’s all for naught if there’s not accountability in the criminal justice system.”
Lightfoot said that juvenile suspects are being released as they await court proceedings and too often are committing the same crime again. “They’re all out,” she said, adding that some may be put on a home monitoring device.
The rate of carjackings in the city is declining after a spike in January and that many of these incidents have been committed by teenagers looking to joyride, Lightfoot said.
On the reopening of schools, Lightfoot said her administration is following the possible “late summer” approval of a vaccine for children under the age of 16. Chicago’s public elementary schools are open for in-person learning, but a return date for high schools has not been set.
A student’s social and emotional development depends on in-school learning because “young people … can’t get that through a (computer) screen,” Lightfoot said.
Despite the political rancor in Chicago and the challenges brought upon by the pandemic, Lightfoot said that she is hopeful for the city’s future because of the countless examples of residents coming to the aid of others.
“What keeps me hopeful is what I see every single day in neighborhoods,” Lightfoot said. “That has allowed us to get through this.”
Nugent echoed Lightfoot’s sentiment.
Nugent said that she has been uplifted by those volunteering for the 39th Ward’s “neighbors helping neighbors” program, which can include a resident picking up groceries for someone who cannot leave the house. She added that she is proud of how many businesses in the ward adapted to survive during the pandemic, including Sports Awards at 5544 W. Armstrong Ave. which started making COVID-19 protection equipment.
“I think I have the greatest job,” Nugent said. “I try to wake up everyday with a can-do attitude and how we can can move that needle.”