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Op-Ed: Brandon Johnson Is Already A Disaster

brandon johnson chicago
Then Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson at the Safe Streets 4 All Mayoral Forum, Chicago, Illinois, January 28, 2023. File photo: Tyger Ligon, Shutter Stock, licensed.

CHICAGO, IL – Chicago mayor-elect Brandon Johnson had yet to move into his office on the fifth floor of city hall, but he already became the focus of a fierce firestorm as the city suffers from violence and vandalism. Critics see Johnson for his weakness and extreme progressiveness.

A major element of Johnson’s misdirected approach to fighting crime became even more clear when, as per a Daily Mail report, “a crowd of more than a hundred rowdy teenagers turned violent as dozens torched and smashed cars while blaring music. In total, 15 people were arrested including nine adults and six children. Despite the outrage over the violence and destruction, Johnson said he thinks the only path forward is to ‘work together’ to give kids safer spaces.”

In his remarks, which have become the center of controversy after the group of teenagers ran rampant through part of downtown Chicago a few weeks ago, Johnson said he does not ‘condone the destructive activity’ and that it is ‘unacceptable and has no place’ in Chicago, but that it should not be used as a way to vilify the group.

That wasn’t the controversial part. That came when he said, “However, it is not constructive to demonize youth who have otherwise been starved of opportunities in their own communities.”

Critics immediately pounced upon his words as condoning or even justifying the group’s actions. Johnson came under heavy fire for his seemingly relaxed,
indifferent, and detached attitude toward violence even before officially becoming mayor.

The problem is that Johnson’s idea of dealing with rampant crime is so misplaced, it will result in nothing but more crime, devastation, and murders. According to Caitlin Cavanagh, writing for the Society for Research in Child Development, “Adolescents are developmentally distinct from adults in ways that merit a tailored response to juvenile crime. Normative adolescent brain development is associated with increases in risk taking, which may include criminal behavior. Juvenile delinquency peaks during the adolescent years and declines in concert with psychosocial maturation. However, current U.S. approaches to juvenile justice are misaligned with youth’s developmental needs and may undermine the very psychosocial development necessary for youth to transition out of crime and lead healthy adult lives.”

In her view, “Adolescence is a time of increased risk taking, which for some youth may include illegal behavior. As a result, approximately 700,000 U.S. youth are arrested and processed through the juvenile justice system annually (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2020). Although the
principal goal of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate youth, when viewed through a evelopmental lens, today’s juvenile justice system falls short of supporting healthy adolescent development.”

Researcher Mishi Faruqee has emphasized in the past that youth prisons do not work and a different approach is needed. He gives an example of data in Virginia, where it cost $142,000 per year to incarcerate just one young person, where 75 percent of them will relapse within a few years.

According to Faruqee, “We owe it to young people and their families to invest in community-based interventions that actually work.” This is what Johnson meant and this is what his critics are so upset about. The mayor-elect was literally excusing the violence and protecting the youths from the vilification and hatred directed at them. Johnson believes, like Faruqee, that a different approach is needed to deal with today’s youth.

But Faruqee’s opinion and Johnson’s ideas are in need of serious overhaul. Juvenile delinquent centers serve the important purpose of removing violent children from the streets where they can continue to cause death and destruction. The centers are designed to rehabilitate these children and teach them a better way of life than the gangs and streets they had become accustomed to.

With a greater focus on solutions, and better parenting, Johnson and his staff may come to realize and understand that real problems need real answers. True, today’s youth deserve more, but we can deliver better solutions for them if we put our heads together and work to resolve the problems and challenges they face instead of excusing their horrific behavior.

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