CHICAGO (CN) — The video is blurry. It's hard to make out any faces. A car pulls up to a curb, men jump out and suddenly there is gunfire — it's not clear who shoots first. One man falls, people run in all directions, then the cops show up.
It's a short video, capturing a gang dispute that occurred Friday, Oct. 1 in the neighborhood of Austin on Chicago's West Side. If Lori Lightfoot were the Cook County State's Attorney, she would have charged all five of the men suspected to be involved in the shooting — which left one dead and two injured — with felonies. But Lori Lightfoot is not the state's attorney. She is the mayor of Chicago. And she is furious that the actual Cook County State's Attorney, Kimberly Foxx, pursued nary a count of aggravated battery.
“We can't live in a world where there's no accountability, the mayor said in an unrelated Monday press conference. "When there's no accountability... individuals who wreak havoc, who fire indiscriminately or fire at a target but without any regard for the sanctity of life... if they do not feel like the criminal justice system is going to hold them accountable, we're going to see a level of brazenness that will send this city into chaos."
It was a slap in the face to Foxx's office, one she didn't take lying down. In her own press conference on Tuesday she rebuked Lightfoot — a former federal prosecutor herself — for taking a case still under investigation into the media spotlight.
"I find myself here today having to respond to a narrative that was given by the mayor yesterday, regarding a case that is still under investigation," Foxx said. "It was inappropriate. It was wrong... discussing the facts of this case in the press without the benefit of all of the evidence does a disservice to the communities who have been impacted by this violence."
Foxx maintained that her job as a prosecutor was not merely to arrest people but to secure a conviction, something that could not be done without sufficient evidence.
"We reviewed the evidence that was presented to us in consultation with the detectives," a Monday release from Foxx's office read. "And they agreed we were unable to approve charges based on the evidence presented."
Lightfoot, undeterred, shot back with a letter signed by five West Side aldermen — a letter demanding that the two men suspected of initiating the gunfight face felony charges.
So it went for much of the week, with barbs traded across news conferences, through press releases, in emails and back-room meetings. But more than just a spat between two of Chicago's public figures, the fight soon took on sociocultural dimensions. It became a shibboleth for the major dividing line running through the entirety of Chicago politics.
On one side, the technocratic liberalism of the New Chicago Machine. Lightfoot's politics. The politics of means-tested solutions and tough financial calls; the politics of Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama and most of the city's aldermen.
On the other side, the city's progressive movement, nascent if not ascendant since at least 2018. The politics of the Chicago Teachers Union, the Democratic Socialist Caucus of city hall, and community activist groups across the city.
Those in the former camp want accountability for wrongs done, respect for the rules of polite society enforced. Crime, meet punishment.
"What can we tell residents of this community about the legitimacy of the criminal justice system? This kind of brazen violence must be met with a swift and certain accountability through felony charges," the letter signed by the five West Side aldermen read. "Anything less than that invites more lawlessness and more brazenness which too many communities are experiencing in this time."