As the reward for information about the fatal shooting of former Chicago firefighter Duane Williams jumped to $34,000, a parade of activists, officials and attorneys responded Sunday to the latest flashpoint in a gruesome year of violence by offering a range of responses to the city’s endemic crime problem.
Community activist Raul Montes took a hardline approach, pushing for more cops and even calling on President Donald Trump to activate the National Guard to tamp down citywide violence.
In contrast, state Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, presented the pervasive violence as a public health crisis and urged Gov. J.B. Pritzker to take executive action to designate it as such.
“We have press conferences every day about the COVID-19 pandemic because people are dying from it, they’re getting sick from it. But just as important is the violence that we see in Chicago and the state of Illinois,” Ford said, pointing to a non-binding resolution passed last year in the Illinois House that labeled violence as a disease.
For over an hour, speakers took turns addressing the media just steps from Let’s Get Poppin in Morgan Park, the popcorn shop Williams exited Thursday afternoon before police said he was confronted by four carjackers. A memorial of fresh flowers had been neatly arranged near the scene of the exchange of gunfire that ultimately left him dead.
Attorney Benjamin Kelly’s unconventional pitch to “save lives” in Chicago and beyond centered around a proposed class-action lawsuit against the major car manufacturer Fiat Chrysler. Kelly claimed the carmaker’s vehicles — including the Jeep Cherokee that Williams drove — could be hacked and stolen without a key.
While Kelly noted “this issue of being able to hack into vehicles” has been ongoing for years, he said his firm Vrdolyak Law was still conducting research. Nevertheless, he assured reporters that a suit was coming “pretty soon.”
Amid the flurry of proposals, police had little information to share about the ongoing homicide investigation.
As Deputy Chief Migdalia Bulnes pleaded for the public’s help, she acknowledged that no one had been questioned in connection with Williams’ seemingly random killing. Though Bulnes acknowledged the “new trend” of carjackers and thieves hacking into vehicles, she couldn’t confirm whether Williams’ Jeep was targeted that way.
His high-profile slaying comes as the city grapples with spikes in both carjackings and homicides.
Chicago had recorded 726 homicides by Sunday, up from a total of 503 homicides in all of 2019, according to records kept by the Sun-Times. Since 1998, the grim milestone of 700 homicides has only been reached one other time.
Cops have also responded to 1,254 carjackings so far this year, according to data maintained by the city. That’s a sharp increase from the 514 carjackings reported all of last year.
“Until we come at this and cage this monster right, we’re going to get what we get,” said Pastor Anthony Williams, who spoke alongside Ford and also pushed to declare violence a public health crisis.
“None of us are safe,” he added. “We can’t continue to live like this.”