Governing Through Gun Crime: How Chicago Funded Police After the 2020 BLM Protests
Harvard Law Review Forum (June 2022, Forthcoming)
13 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2022 Last revised: 30 Sep 2022
Date Written: February 28, 2022
From May 29, 2020 onward, the city of Chicago witnessed an escalating wave of protests against police violence under the Black Lives Matter (or BLM) banner. Some 52,000 people participated in BLM protests in the city. Yet just over a year later, the Chicago City Council passed Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s municipal budget with a $189 million dollar jump in police funding. What then happened to defuse the momentum of social change in Chicago? The answer, we contend in this essay, has in part to do with guns, and in particular the way that we talk about guns. Through increased rhetoric about illegal guns and heightened enforcement of gun possession laws, Chicago’s mayor and police chief have managed to legitimize an increase in policing that widened racial inequalities at a time of unprecedented pressure from activists. In the teeth of sharp criticism from BLM, Mayor Lightfoot deployed a historically enduring set of arguments about gun violence against liberal reform-minded political competitors. At the same time, her police superintendent pressed for a set of coercive responses that again had at best questionable effects on gun violence even as they more assuredly reinforced racially stratified patterns of law enforcement. The result has been a shift in policing resources that has increased the disparate burden of policing upon Chicago’s Black and Hispanic communities without much evidence of an offsetting public-safety benefit. This echoes experience in similar past periods of social unrest, when Chicago used gun-talk to defuse mobilizing energies of social movements.
Keywords: Police reform, firearms, Chicago
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