Well it’s been three months, give or take, since Mayor Brandon Johnson took office. There was a lot of hoopla when he won. Young, former educator and mouthpiece for the Chicago Teachers Union, former Cook County Board commissioner, a Westsider, and an Austin resident to boot, the expectations for him were high.
Brandon pulled off what many never expected to happen. In a runoff with Paul Vallas, which had Black folks picking sides and not automatically going with the Black candidate, his win was astonishing. At the same time, expectations for his performance were just as high once he took office.
Even I must admit that his inauguration speech was compelling. He said a lot of the right thing with the right tone. Thus, mine and everyone else’s high expectations are justified.
But for someone who has only been in office for about three months, he’s been missing where it matters. His visibility has been selective and he has not been available to the press with the same openness as his predecessor. The former mayor was in the newspaper and on television and out and about all the time. We heard her and we saw her. Brandon has performed a disappearing act, which makes me worried for the next three years and nine months of his term.
He finally held a news conference after the latest “teen takeover” at Roosevelt Road and Canal Street. When a reporter described the melee as a “mob action,” Brandon equated the term mob to calling our young people miniature versions of Al Capone. He wants us to use verbiage that is very careful in how we describe the behaviors of those unruly young people. But as an elder who grew up in the city, during some of the most turbulent times in its history, I’m going to call it as I see it. And “mob action” is very polite compared to how I would describe them.
We are becoming and have become a country of wimps. Those who are misbehaving cannot have their behaviors labeled using brutally honest terms. And those who would be doing the labeling are having to tiptoe around the words being used. That is all fine and dandy until the manure hits the fan.
Do those same young people use such parsed language when they speak with one another? I doubt it. All one has to do is listen to the music being drilled into them. When they are encouraging each other to loot and destroy a business, when they are jumping on and damaging cars, when their butts are up in the air twerking, when they use a fire extinguisher as a weapon, those are not the actions and behaviors of kind words. And labeling them with kind terminology does not change the behaviors they are displaying. Even the interim police chief used language sending the message that what those young people were up to was basically OK.
If they need a wakeup call, they should have been arrested and their cellphones confiscated until their court date, where they should be expected to pay a fine and do real community service. Several Saturdays and Sundays wearing orange jumpsuits and picking up litter would send a better message.
Summer is not over. Brandon will be met with more of these takeovers if the response continues to be the current gentle tap on the hand being proffered. One only has to look at what happened in New York City this past week where a thousand young people rioted because someone decided to offer a giveaway without being a sanctioned event.
Brandon needs to come out from wherever he’s hiding and be more visible to these young people. If he is to be their biggest advocate, they need to understand what he expects and he needs to state those expectations clearly.