“Do you know what it’s like to lose a child, especially to gun violence?” asked Lanesha Walker, the mother of 7-year-old Jaslyn Adams, who was killed in the drive-thru of a Homan Square McDonald’s. | Provided
A text by McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, opining that the parents of two deceased children, Jaslyn Adams and Adam Toledo, “failed those kids,” cut like a knife, said Jaslyn’s mom, who now demands an apology.
Lanesha Walker has kept quiet in her grief over the brazen murder in April of her youngest daughter, 7-year-old Jaslyn Adams, in the drive-thru of a Homan Square McDonald’s.
While many family members have spoken on the tragedy — Jaslyn had been in the car with her father — her mother’s focus has been parenting Jaslyn’s two sisters and brother, ages 11, 10 and 9, through their unimaginable loss. Until now.
McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski ignited a firestorm with his texts to Mayor Lori Lightfoot — opining that the parents of Jaslyn and Adam Toledo, the 13-year-old killed by a Chicago police officer in a foot chase, “failed those kids.”
But while a wave of rebuke has flowed — from the mayor’s office, after the texts were revealed by FOIA, to racial justice groups, who protested at McDonald’s headquarters Wednesday — no one can understand the pain Kempczinski’s remarks caused a mother.
It cut like a knife, Walker said.
“I am a grieving parent. I’ve been grieving for the longest, and from your place of power, you insult me. How dare you judge me! How dare you say I failed my child! I wasn’t there when my child was killed. I didn’t know she was at your McDonald’s with her father at that moment in time. You owe me an apology,” said Walker, 29, of Little Village.
“I haven’t really spoken out, because this is not just another child killed in Chicago. This is my child, my daughter who lived with me 24/7. Mr. CEO, you have no clue what it’s like to live on the South Side and West Side, in the trenches, where it gets real treacherous, just to survive, just to protect your children. You come from privilege. You can’t speak about me.”
Kempczinski had already capitulated to the national criticism that rained down, admitting in a letter to the chain’s employees that his April 19 texts — sent a day after Jaslyn’s murder — “lacked the empathy and compassion.” Adam was killed three weeks earlier, on March 29.
“With both, the parents failed those kids, which I know is something you can’t say. Even harder to fix,” Kempczinski had originally texted Lightfoot.
Lightfoot, who’d ignored his comment in her response to his text at the time, this week criticized the CEO. “Victim shaming has no place in this conversation,” the mayor’s office said. “As the mayor has said previously, families do everything they can — moms, dads, grandparents — to love and support their children, and tragedies can still happen.”
Against the racial reckoning that followed the May 25, 2020, murder of George Floyd, a Black man, under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis, the McDonald’s CEO’s comments drew a glaring spotlight, with groups like the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression; Chicago Fight for $15 and a Union; Color of Change, and Movement for Black Lives writing an open letter of outrage, and demanding a meeting with McDonald’s brass.
“He needs to meet with me. I don’t want a letter or phone call apologizing. He needs to come to the ‘hood,” said Walker.
“You are wrong to make such comments about people who spend thousands of dollars a year with your company. My daughter ate McDonald’s almost twice a week. It was her favorite. So I’m spending all this money with you, and you have no respect or compassion.
“Do you know what it’s like to lose a child, especially to gun violence?” she asked. “My daughter was gunned down in one of your McDonald’s, and to this day, has anyone from your company reached out, even just to offer your condolences? No. Instead, you tear me down.”
A McDonald’s spokeswoman did not immediately respond Thursday night.
In his letter to his employees, Kempczinski wrote that he was reacting as a parent.
“When I wrote this, I was thinking through my lens as a parent, and reacted viscerally. But I have not walked in the shoes of Adam’s or Jaslyn’s family and so many others who are facing a very different reality,” he told his staff.
“Not taking the time to think about this from their viewpoint was wrong, and lacked the empathy and compassion I feel for these families. This is a lesson that I will carry with me.”
Jaslyn’s killing was gang-related, and her father is in a gang, according to both police and the father’s mother. Three men were charged with the violent murder, after a national manhunt.
The police officer who shot and killed the unarmed Toledo was not charged in the case.
“He has taken [me] back to that place of grieving. I know I am a good parent. I’ve been a good parent all along. There’s nothing you can say that can make me think I’m not a good parent. I did not put my child in harm’s way. Why don’t you come to Chicago and visit these communities and see how this violence plays out, how you have no control?” Walker said.
“Mr. CEO, you don’t know me. You don’t know anything about us. You’re on the outside looking in, from your high pedestal, judging us. You don’t know anyone’s real situation.”
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file photo
In this April 18, 2021, file photo, a police commander walks by as police investigate a crime scene where Jaslyn Adams, 7, was shot, resulting in Jaslyn’s death at a McDonald’s drive-thru in Chicago.