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Invoking Massacres In Dayton And El Paso, Chicago Police Chief Spreads Disinformation About Bail Reform

In the wake of massacres in Dayton and El Paso, Chicago police chief Eddie Johnson once again promoted misinformation about bail reform and how it has fueled gun violence in Chicago.

Seven people were reportedly killed, and at least 46 individuals were injured in shootings that took place from Friday evening to early Sunday.

The Chicago Police Department believes all of the weekend violence was connected to individuals linked to gangs, who are “carrying illegal guns to settle disputes and prey on rivals.”

Johnson griped during a press conference on August 4, “For $1000 and an ankle bracelet, you can walk out of jail after being arrested with military-grade assault weapons complete with armor-piercing bullets. And I can say that because we saw that happen yesterday.”

When Johnson was asked to expand on his remarks about bail reform, he defensively replied, “Look, bail reform, I’m okay with that. You know, we clearly should be doing some things differently. What I’m not okay with is a guy has four AK-47s, and he gets out on home monitoring.”

“That just makes no sense to me because it doesn’t send a mental accountability to this guy that it’s not okay to have weapons, military-grade weapons in the city of Chicago,” Johnson added.

He insisted he has never blamed the judicial system for gun violence. Who he blames are the “knuckleheads” pulling the trigger.

On August 5, during another press conference, Johnson again mentioned the massacres in Dayton and El Paso. It was yet another time that he argued bail reform has gone too far.

Johnson stated, “We have to create a culture of accountability. We have to let people that continuously want to pick up illegal weapons and use them—we have to let them now there’s going to be some accountability.”

“We’re trying to create a culture where people won’t want to pick up guns in the city,” he added, while also suggesting that police keep arresting the same individuals, and they don’t seem to stop.

When a reporter said arrestees cannot just be held, he acknowledged, “They do have a presumption of innocence until they have their day in court. I’m okay with all of that.”

“But I also know that if we don’t send a message to them that we won’t tolerate you picking up these guns and using them in our city then that behavior will continue,” Johnson insisted.

The police chief maintained that gang leaders can easily pool their money to raise bail money to release “shooters” from jail. He said the gangs’ greatest assets are their “shooters.”

Johnson’s disinformation did not begin with the tragedies in Dayton or El Paso. In July, the Chicago Community Bond Fund called attention to Johnson’s remarks in response to a letter from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle that addressed the “false narratives” about bond reform from Johnson and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

The police chief called a $100 bond “chump change” for those arrested for allegedly having an illegal gun. He mentioned $4,000 or $5,000 would be an appropriate bond amount because these individuals will not “want to spend five grand every time they get caught with a gun.”

Yet, as the Chicago Community Bond Fund outlined, “Money bond is a condition of release for people who are presumed innocent. It is not meant to be a punitive measure as Johnson proposed, apparently assuming everyone arrested is guilty and that the courts need not wait until after trial to inflict punishment. Superintendent Johnson’s remarks promote punishment before conviction, a pre-conviction fine simply because police have made an arrest.”

Johnson seem to want it both ways. He would like to not be in conflict with the community, which supports bail reform, but pushes the ideology of police, who demand carceral solutions to violence. That ensures he will be challenged publicly.

The statistics do not support Johnson’s fear that people picked up with guns are re-offending after they bond out of jail.

Timothy C. Evans, the chief judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, argued, “The criticism is misleading because pretrial defendants released on bond are not driving the weekend crime statistics. In fact, 99.8 percent of felony defendants released on bail do not receive charges of new gun-related violent crime while their cases are pending.”

“From October 2017 through March 2019, 37,233 felony defendants came through bond court, and 30,466 were released to the community as they awaited trial. Of those 30,466 released defendants, 70 (0.2%), were charged with committing a new violent offense that involved a gun. While nobody is downplaying allegations of violence, this is an average of less than four cases per month,” Evans noted.

Furthermore, as highlighted by the Chicago Community Bond Fund, “The Office of the Chief Judge released a report [in May] detailing the first fifteen months of bond reform in Cook County as well as the underlying data.”

The Bond Fund continued:

The report’s analysis showed that only about one half of one percent (0.6 percent) of the more than 30,000 people released pretrial were charged with a new “violent offense.” Even if we only look at the 7,369 people arrested on “Violent” or “Weapons” charges, these numbers hold. Of those people, 925 were released on I-Bonds (meaning they did not have to pay money to secure their release). Of those 925 people, 12.6 percent (129 people) were re-arrested, but only 15 people (1.6 percent) were rearrested for a new violent charge.

There were 282 murders from January 1 to July 31. This is a 13 percent drop when compared to the same period in 2018, according to the Chicago Police Department. The drop represents a four-year low.

During the August 4 press conference, he repeated the false notion that those charged with having illegal guns are paying $100 after they are arrested and then they proceed to commit violence again.

Matthew McLoughlin, the director of programs for the Chicago Community Bond Fund, said it came as no surprise that the CPD was “exploiting the white supremacist violence that occurred in the last 48 hours to ramp up calls to incarcerate black and brown people.”

“The biggest misconception coming out of the [Chicago Police Department and Fraternal Order of Police] shop is that a person that is released from bond court is not being held ‘accountable.’ Your criminal case doesn’t end if you are released pre-trial,” Sharone Mitchell, the director of the Illinois Justice Project, told WBEZ.

City officials have not released data on the number of people arrested for violent offenses, who were arrested on those charges not long after they received bond for a prior alleged violent offense.

What Johnson keeps repeating for the press is not only deliberately misleading but it also fails to differentiate many of the acts of white supremacist violence from the incidents of gun violence within Chicago communities.

As McLoughlin put it, “If we don’t want Chicagoans to carry weapons, we need to eliminate the reason people feel the need to arm themselves. That means addressing the economic violence our communities are subjected to as well as the systemic disinvestment from resources in those communities.”

Photo by Arnaud Sobczyk on Flickr.
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."