Crime and violence were major focal points in all of the 2023 Chicago municipal elections, from the mayoral race to the city council races. 

In the mayoral runoff, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson had sharply opposing views on how to address crime and violence, and other issues for the city should they be elected mayor. Vallas, who had the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), called for hiring at least 500 more police officers, while Johnson won by running on a progressive platform that would invest in people and address the root causes of violence, such as employment, housing and mental healthcare. 

On April 4, Johnson defeated Vallas after receiving 52 percent of the vote, while Vallas got about 48 percent. 

Now that Johnson will lead the city, the focus on addressing the root causes of violence and investing in people to reduce violence and crime will be front-and-center. Ahead of the April 4 runoff, The TRiiBE spoke with Artinese Myrick, a lead organizer LIVE FREE Illinois, a faith-based organization with Black and brown leadership, about each candidate’s approach to violence prevention and public safety. 

The organization’s mission is to create communities in Chicago where Black people are free from all forms of violence by building economic and political power and by combatting all forms of violence against the Black community. LIVE FREE also works to strengthen the relationship between churches and communities. Myrick supported Johnson’s campaign for mayor. 

“Our people are vulnerable people working hard each day to create a better life for themselves, their children and their community. Those things should be lifted up,” Myrick told The TRiiBE. “And we should be, as a city, working towards how can we support and create a better infrastructure for families to actually do that, comfortably and with dignity.”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The TRiiBE: Before discussing the runoff election, I wanted to learn more about you. How did you become an organizer focusing on policing, incarceration and gun violence? What brought you to this work?

Artinese Myrick: I come from a family directly impacted by incarceration and gun violence. All three of my parents were incarcerated at the same time for the same two weeks when I was around nine years old. They were kind of in and out until I was about 18 years old because my parents were incarcerated [and] my grandmother raised me.  

I saw how she was being treated as a Black woman with kidney failure, how doctors treated her, and more specifically, the footprint that was policing left my family still trying to navigate in life. I went to school as a social worker and took a policy class that shed light on how systems shaped the conditions we all had to live in and that my family also had to navigate. 

Some of my family members have also been victims of gun violence for the last couple of years, and we have had a couple of generations wiped out due to gun violence. So gun violence and reducing mass incarceration are just passionate points for me. 

But not only that, I want to help families become whole. I don’t want other families to have to deal with what my mother, father, stepfather and grandmother had to deal with because the system has gaps it didn’t want to fill. So many system inequities are rooted in racism. I spend my days looking to eradicate that and build Black economic and political power. So Black people can speak for themselves and the needs and policies that will help them.


Now, moving on to talk about the 2023 Chicago municipal election. Every time there’s an election, we hear that there’s so much at stake. What does this election represent to you, and what do you feel are some of the top issues?

The 2023 election represents a space for change. Everyone is prioritizing public safety, so public safety and violence prevention, and also policing are the most significant issues that are coming up through this election.

As an organizer, how should our mayoral candidates approach these issues? What do you believe needs to be added to the conversation around their plans or policies?

When discussing what’s missing from the conversation around the violence-related policy, we’ve heard a lot of buzzwords. We’re hearing about public safety and policing. What I want to hear, more specifically, is how this will be able to touch real families. A lot of times, these narratives are harmful to our people on the ground. When we talk about violence prevention instantly, people like [Paul] Vallas specifically talk about throwing more police at the problem. 

We don’t need more policing, especially with the $1.9 billion that CPD [the Chicago Police Department] is already getting, and we have yet to see that equate to more safety. The [CPD’s] clearance rate in Chicago is under 50 percent, and in Black neighborhoods, it’s under 18 percent. [Reporter’s note: According to a 2023 report by LIVE FREE Illinois, which highlights Chicago’s unsolved homicides, CPD has solved an average of 50 percent of homicides annually. In 2021, there were 800 homicides. The clearance rate by the prosecution was 21.7 percent in majority-Black neighborhoods and 45.6 percent in majority-white neighborhoods]

We can’t keep looking at these archaic ways of fixing gun violence that continue to harm communities. When we look at policing and people coming home from prison, they return to the same conditions they left. So how can we bring those investment priorities to people first? From my experience, when we’ve done that, we’ve invested in people, listened to them, and brought them closer to the things they need, that they were better off. That didn’t happen by throwing them away and locking the door.

I want to hear candidates support things like Treatment Not Trauma, the Office of Gun Violence Prevention and how we will streamline all the city’s services to ensure we have access to things happening on the ground. 

I want to hear from the people on the ground who are doing violence interruption work be lifted up. So many people are doing violence prevention work out of their own pockets with their own time. We normally don’t talk about those grassroots organizations that are pillars in the community, touching people every day.

What specific organizations or people in the community do you think we should be highlighting or talking about that are doing violence intervention or interruption work?

There’s Shawn Childs on the West Side. He has an organization called The House of Hope Foundation, where every week, he goes out with youth. He plans beauty and barber shop days. He takes the kids out to the movies to demonstrate that they are cared for and gives a space for them to be themselves. We also need to uplift people like Jasmine James. She has an organization called The Trauma Zone, where she’s helping black families identify their trauma and triggers. And Celia Colón’s Giving Others Dreams (G.O.D.), where she supports women who have come home after being incarcerated and gives them essential necessities everyone needs, like clothing. These are the people that the community sees. So they need to be uplifted. How are our governing officials working with the people on the ground? And I think those are some of the people that need to be lifted up.

Contrary to what the news says, plenty of great things and people are working towards building a better Chicago.

There’s a common refrain that violence prevention doesn’t work. What programming at LIVE FREE dispels that?

We are advocating for an office of Gun Violence Prevention. So with the Office of Gun Violence Prevention, we want to streamline that we want to connect our city better. We want to provide services to those who are heavily impacted, which looks like giving mental health and trauma services to those who are greatly affected. [Reporter’s note: mayor-elect Brandon Johnson has proposed launching an Office of Community Safety, reopening the city’s closed mental health clinics, and funding year-round youth employment.]. 

We’re working on community healing centers within communities that can touch the people on those blocks. When shootings happen, families can get services through the hospital, but the rest of the people on that block are left to fend for themselves. We want to create community healing centers where people feel trusted and comfortable getting those services. We’re looking to make that in the city of Chicago. 

We’re creating a community advisory board that would oversee an Office of Gun Violence Prevention so that people who are impacted can have their voices be heard when decisions are being made too. We want people from all backgrounds [working on] a multidisciplinary approach that will include victims and survivors of gun violence in those conversations. That will also lead the way this office can be created. And again, this office won’t be just pinned away through political priorities and new mayoral administrations that come in. The goal is for this office to stand so we can see the successes and the benefits of actual true violence prevention.

 “Update April 18, 2023: This article has been updated to reflect the most recent vote totals provided by the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners since it was originally published.

is a multimedia reporter for The TRiiBE.