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Preckwinkle blasts Emanuel on volatile carjacking issue

Thursday, May 17, 2018
Crain's Chicago Business
by Greg Hinz

Chicago never did get the mayoral matchup that tons of voters and certainly the media have yearned for. That was Rahm Emanuel against the more liberal Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board. It's not going to be. Too bad. But that doesn't mean that Preckwinkle is meekly watching as a big cast of lesser pols tries to bell the cat in the upcoming election. The county boss has launched a haymaker aimed right at Emanuel's jaw on one of the toughest issues around: soaring crime rates and what to do about it, a subject that is becoming a major factor in this election cycle. The haymaker has come on the subject of what to do about a spurt of carjackings, something that is beginning to cause the mayor real problems in his upper-middle-income base, concentrated downtown and on the North Side, but also an offense that all too often tends to involve young men of color who Preckwinkle believes have been singled out for punishment when what they really need is a hand up. Specifically, the question is what to do about a bill in Springfield that would make it easier to prosecute "passengers" in a vehicle that's been stolen and allow juvenile carjacking suspects to be held for psychological evaluation and potentially placed in a shelter, rather than released to their parents or guardian. The bill steamed out of the Senate on a unanimous 56-0 vote. But it has hit bumps in the House, where Preckwinkle and her allies are actively trying to scuttle it. In a statement and subsequent interview yesterday, Preckwinkle personally delivered the message. As currently written, the bill "will not have a significant impact on preserving public safety," Preckwinkle said. "Rather, it will perpetuate Illinois' longstanding trend of unnecessarily incarcerating young black and brown youth for nonviolent acts." The real problem is with police, she went on to add. "This bill doesn't hold police accountable for their lack of arrests for violent crimes. Similar to the low clearance rate in Chicago for shootings, 9 out of 10 carjacking offenses in Chicago do not result in an arrest," she said. "Incarceration, even for a short period of time, is extremely harmful to young people and increases the likelihood that they will reoffend in the future and be incarcerated as adults." Preckwinkle never mentioned Emanuel's name. But she didn't have to. And allies such as incoming West Side County Commissioner Brandon Johnson did, with Johnson accusing Emanuel by name of "attack(ing) low-income minority children." The sponsor of the Senate bill, state Sen. Tony Munoz, who is Latino and represents a heavily Latino West Side district, strongly disputes that. In a phone interview, Munoz insisted that his bill "isn't an enhancement" of existing penalties in law, but merely an attempt to make sure those who break the law are held accountable. Munoz says police are right when they argue there's a loophole in the existing law in which a group of young adults riding around in, say, a $100,000 Mercedes, all insist they had absolutely no idea it was stolen and end up getting off with little if any penalty because police can't prove they did know. "I don't agree with that," Munoz said, referring to Preckwinkle's argument. "We do have a problem. . . .I don't want to lock up anybody who doesn't deserve it." Earlier: Our lawless downtown is threatening our city's economy Editorial: A task force to tackle carjackings? It's about time. Team Emanuel doesn't want to get into a public war with Preckwinkle and won't say much. But its main message to the president is, if not this bill, then what? "She's not in favor of any increase in penalties," said one Emanuel insider. Preckwinkle spokesman Frank Shuftan shoots the ball right back. "We fundamentally disagree with anyone who believes simply legislating tougher laws will significantly impact this issue," he says. So, who's right? My sympathies lie with Emanuel and the police on this one, but both sides have their points. Preckwinkle argues that most stolen cars are not hijacked at gunpoint but merely stolen. Using carjacking as an excuse to toughen the law to go after passengers in a car that only was taken from a parking lot is dishonest, she suggests. Point taken. But joyriding in a car that clearly was stolen is wrong, whatever the age of those involved. If they get caught and punished, good. And just releasing a suspected offender without taking a closer look, as the bill also provides, might not be a bad idea, though officials will need be careful not to just warehouse young minority boys. I'll be interested to see where the other candidates for mayor stand on this.

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