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‘Racial Justice,’ ‘Intersectionality’ at Heart of New Chicago Mayor’s Transition Report

Almost two months after he ascended to the fourth floor of City Hall, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson offered a victory lap for the left-wing activists, unions, politicians, and donors who helped get him elected.

His transition committee issued a 223-page mayoral transition report drawing on the work of 11 committees and subcommittees and almost 400 Chicagoans.

Mr. Johnson and his allies announced its release on July 6 at Greater Harvest Baptist Church on the city’s South Side.

“Today is living proof that when we come together, build and run on our values, anything is possible, not just for the City of Chicago, but the rest of the globe,” Mr. Johnson said.

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Martin Luther King III speaks at the base of a statue to his father after a wreath-laying ceremony at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington in this undated file photo. (Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

Mr. Johnson’s oratory at a South Side church may have been meant to evoke civil rights leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Others who spoke at Greater Harvest offered a clearer picture of what the new administration could have in mind when it comes to race and economics.

“You will not be able to instantly dismantle structural racism or challenge racial capitalism. However, you can pick a city that leads the way and serves as a model for the nation,” said Linda Rae Murray, co-chair of the committee’s health and human services subcommittee and former chief medical officer of the Cook County Department of Public Health.

Dr. King Jr.’s son, Martin Luther King III, rallied for Mr. Johnson during his runoff campaign against Paul Vallas.

Race at Center of Johnson’s Report

The report, which begins with a land acknowledgment, describes as its first value “the importance of the dual pillars of equity and inclusivity, and particularly racial justice.”

It also typically capitalizes “black” while leaving “white” in lowercase.

The document also emphasizes the importance of “intersectionality” in its analysis, describing it as a “critical theme … borrowed from black feminist writers and activists.”

Scholars have challenged intersectional theory, with some warning that it sacrifices the individual to collective identities.

The report argues that the identities considered under intersectionality “are not in competition with one another” as “they are all intimately related.”

It co-signs the recommendation from a committee under former Mayor Lori Lightfoot to keep monuments to Christopher Columbus and other public art out of public view.

The mayoral transition report claims those public artworks “reinforce white supremacy and stereotypes of American Indians.”

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City municipal crews help guide the Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park as it is removed by a crane in Chicago in the pre-dawn hours of July 24, 2020. (Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

The report also emphasizes what it asserts are the “root causes” of crime, which rose 38 percent during Mr. Johnson’s first month as mayor.

During a previous wave of crime that began during the 1960s, James Q. Wilson and other social scientists found that policy aimed at “root causes” was far less effective against crime than the incapacitation of offenders through incarceration.

Despite this evidence from the past, the report claims that “violence cannot be prevented or controlled without considering the entire range of violence against people in Chicago.”

“This includes the daily systems of violence rooted in protecting dominant white, heteronormative, ableist, and patriarchal power,” it adds.

The report’s “Public Safety” section begins by contending that: “American history is characterized by its exceptional levels of violence” without offering any additional context or evidence from other civilizations and cultures past or present.

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ICE Homeland Security Investigation agents arrest a suspected MS-13 gang member on Long Island, N.Y., during a 30-day sweep in June 2017. (ICE)

One colorful cartoon graphic in a section on police staffing relates racial dynamics in rather blunt terms: “It’s hard to trust people who don’t look like you.”

While it’s hard to imagine such language being used to recommend an increase in white hiring to patrol white neighborhoods, the remainder of that subcommittee report makes it abundantly clear that the aim is to step up the hiring of black police.

“Evaluate the merit promotion process and eliminate barriers to hiring black police officers,” the document recommends.

An immigration subcommittee report calls for the city’s gang database to be erased.

Despite the report’s ideologically charged contents, Mr. Johnson presented himself as a uniter in his July 6 remarks at Greater Harvest.

“There are individuals, of course, that work hard to try to divide us. But clearly, the City of Chicago is not going to stand for the division that is being propagated all over the country,” he said.

Speakers Reflect Union-Driven Coalition

Mr. Johnson, formerly a paid organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), was backed by that organization during the April runoff election that saw him defeat centrist liberal Vallas.

Vallas was backed by Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police, the city’s police union.

Mr. Johnson’s biggest donors included organizations associated with the CTU, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), all of which provided the candidate with large sums after the first round election eliminated incumbent Lightfoot and set up the Johnson versus Vallas main card.

The leaders of various committees and subcommittees involved in creating the transition report spoke on July 6 at Greater Harvest.

“We must recognize the pivotal role that arts and culture play as an economic driver for the city of Chicago,” said Abby Pucker, co-chair of the arts and culture subcommittee.

Ms. Pucker is the daughter of billionaire film producer Gigi Pritzker, a member of the politically and economically powerful Pritzker family—major art collectors and the namesake of the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Ms. Pritzker is a cousin of Democrat Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and Penny Pritzker, who served as commerce secretary under President Barack Obama.

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Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks in Chicago, Ill., on Aug. 4, 2021. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“The very real possibility now exists for the long-overdue demand for a racially equitable system of education, with fully staffed and resourced schools that center the needs of those that have historically endured the brunt of disinvestment, which include black, Latine, immigrant and undocumented, disabled, unhoused, LGBT students, and students for whom English may not be their first language,” said community organizer Jhatayn “Jay” Travis, who co-chaired what she described as the “mighty” education subcommittee.

Ms. Travis leads the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, a grantee of the CTU’s foundation as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times.

That union supported her 2014 bid for state representative, saying that she would “work to ensure the economic security of thousands of public servants in her district.”

“A transformative district that supports people from birth to pre-K through college is now within our reach,” Ms. Travis said at Greater Harvest on July 6.

“No human is illegal,” said Andrea Ortiz-Landin, co-chair of the immigration subcommittee. She leads the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, another recipient of CTU Foundation money.

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Migrants from Central and South America take part in a caravan attempting to reach the Mexico-U.S. border while protesting against the deaths of 40 migrants in a fire at a detention center in the northern city of Juarez, Mexico, on April 23, 2023. (Stringer/AFP via Getty Images)

Mr. Johnson also addressed some possible criticisms of the report’s timing.

“For those who are asking why it took so long, I don’t think it needs an explanation. But it’s because the people of Chicago are worth the time, the effort, and the deliberation to finally get it right,” he said.

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