Illustration by Robin Carnilius [The TRiiBE]

The People is our section for all opinions concerning Black Chicago. GoodKids MadCity youth activist Alycia Kamil, 19, says Mayor Lori Lightfoot is resorting to her cop ways during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been resorting to her cop ways when it comes to her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and enforcement of the stay-at-home order. In the midst of a pandemic, the last thing you want to hear from the mayor of your city is that you could be thrown in jail. 

When you are Black, and watching the heightened attention on your community and negative comments surrounding it during the pandemic — while almost no one is talking about the white communities that are also breaking social distancing guidelines by gathering in parks without masks — it’s very easy to feel targeted. 

When a crisis happens, it’s very easy to villainize Black people. It seems to be almost second nature to most, and we have been watching this play out over the last few weeks. From the over-reported West Side house party to the lack of concern towards white communities ignoring the stay-at-home order, to Lightfoot’s interaction with Black youth at a West Side school playground to her press conference where she referred to people as “criminals,” it’s obvious that people want to blame Black Chicagoans for the spread of the virus, which is mostly impacting our community.

I’m a 19-year-old Black woman living in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood of Chicago. In the city, more than 70% of COVID-19 deaths are Black people even though they make up only 30% of the population. The pandemic has been an incredibly worrying time for myself, my friends and my family. It’s affected our financial stability, education and future opportunities. I was preparing to intern at one of the several theater companies that I applied to, but now that’s not happening because of COVID-19. I was planning to take summer classes through a program at the University of Illinois-Chicago, but that’s also been cancelled because of the pandemic. Also, I’m a freelance poetry artist and singer, so I relied on events and churches to bring in income. However, with events cancelled and churches closed because of the pandemic, my wallet has taken a hit. I have family who are considered essential workers and they risk their lives every single day to work under a capitalist society that doesn’t care about the wellness of Black people.

I have many friends who are suffering mentally due to the extreme isolation that this quarantine has brought about. A lot of my friends, myself included, already struggled from depression and anxiety. Social interaction and being around friends was helpful. Now with the quarantine, our mental health is taking a hit and not being able to find physical comfort in each other has been hard on us. Mental health is already something that is drastically ignored throughout the Black community, especially in regards to Black youth. So it’s been a more difficult time than usual trying to sort through these emotions alone. 

The stay-at-home order that has been violently enforced on Black neighborhoods doesn’t help soothe the anxieties of this pandemic. Black youth are already heavily villainized in this city on a daily basis. Now that there is another reason to target us, it’s as if there is no situation where our lives are truly protected. Even in the midst of a pandemic, we are worried about the side effects of institutional racism. 

Lightfoot has been trying to playfully interact with the youth on Twitter by reposting memes and making Tik Tok videos and responding to tweets. She’s parading this front as if she genuinely cares about and is involved in the lives of young people in Chicago. Young Chicago organizers, like myself, know that Lightfoot barely even listens to our voices. At one of the youth town halls that she and other mayoral candidates attended during the 2019 mayoral race, one of our GoodKids MadCity members went up to ask Lightfoot a question. And Lightfoot didn’t answer her, instead, she was hurrying to leave the town hall. That was the first experience I had with Lightfoot ignoring the youth.

When it was time for her to actually interact with Black youth face-to-face on the West Side, the encounter went horribly — and she seemed to have lost all of that charisma that she was depicting so strongly on her social media outreach to youth. However, I wasn’t surprised with how that interaction played out. 

Before becoming mayor on April 19, 2019, Lightfoot was president of the Chicago Police Board. Before she became mayor, the city increased the Chicago Police Department (CPD) budget for seven years straight. She continued the tradition for her 2020 budget, increasing CPD’s budget to $1.7 billion. She has completely dropped the progressive front she originally ran her 2019 mayoral campaign on. 

When it came to actually speaking to Black youth during the pandemic, Lightfoot resorted to the ways of the people she respects the most: a cop. That’s significantly different than the person she was pretending to be on social media. 

Yes, it is important that we all follow the social distancing safety precautions. People have been doing their best to do just that. I haven’t been going outside besides for the necessary runs to the grocery store. But I’m always wearing a mask when I go out, and I’m following the six-feet distancing rule. 

However, at times, it’s difficult for me and my friends to follow the stay-at-home order. We’re still holding out hope that we’ll be able to enjoy whatever summer we have left. It makes me angry to see pictures of white families having picnics in Oz Park and racing on Lower Wacker Drive on warm days without wearing any masks— but then we’re the ones threatened with jail. 

Cook County Jail has more than 800 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with over seven deaths. Jails, prisons and detention centers are living health hazards as safety precautions are not being enforced on the inside. It is pretty much impossible to follow the six-feet distancing rule or to receive proper medical attention. 

It’s happening in front of our eyes all because of the perceived notion that people who are locked up and deemed “criminals” through a racist system, do not deserve these rights. These are realities that Lightfoot cannot ignore. For her to resort to arresting people and putting them in jail for not following the stay-at-home order is completely careless and shows a disregard for the wellbeing of the citizens of Chicago.  

During this pandemic, we should feel protected by the elected officials who run this city. We should not have to worry about being overly policed, targeted and thrown in jail. We should not have to worry about paying rent when people are unsure of when they’re getting their next check. 

If Lightfoot wants to help, she needs to invest money in low-income neighborhoods. We’re more susceptible to COVID-19 because of racist structures. The city can set a $1.7 billion budget for the Chicago Police Department, giving them more than $4 million dollars a day, but yet so many of our communities lack grocery stores, health centers, clean parks, and clean air. 

While Lightfoot was dancing on Tik Tok, a demolition was happening in Little Village that left the whole neighborhood in smoke. While she is reposting memes on Twitter, gun violence is still happening rapidly throughout our communities.

Lightfoot needs to invest more money into low income Black and Brown communities on the South and West sides of Chicago. We are the ones most impacted by COVID-19 in all areas. She needs to provide financial relief. She needs to apply the same pressure on white communities that are ignoring the stay-at-home order. Until then, she’s failing at her job to help those severely impacted by the pandemic.

Alycia Kamil is a young activist with GoodKids MadCity, an organization of Black and Brown youth united in fighting to end violence in cities across the country.