Chicago Mayor Lightfoot’s Coronavirus Threats and Government Incapacity to Handle a Pandemic

Stansfield Smith

Saturday May 2, Chicago mayor Lightfoot declared you can be arrested and jailed for having house parties. “We will shut you down, we will cite you, and if we have to, we will arrest you,” said Lightfoot. “Don’t make us treat you like a criminal, but if you act like a criminal and you violate the law and refuse to do what’s necessary to save lives in the middle of a pandemic, we will take you to jail, period.”

It is telling that Lightfoot addressed her arrest and jail comments mostly to parties and gatherings in Black neighborhoods.  It is true that three quarters of Chicago’s corona virus deaths are among Blacks and Latinos with pre-existing medical conditions. Yet the very day before she made her threats, a Re-Open Illinois rally of around 500 people took place in downtown Chicago. Lightfoot made no mention of this gathering, which was probably 95% white.

Not only did she make threats to arrest people for exercising the right to assembly in house parties, but she applied a paternalistic, if not racist, double standard.

To heighten the Mayor’s hypocrisy, National Public Radio reported that Chicago’s Cook County jail “The rate of infection in the jail is higher than most anywhere else in the country.” Yet Lightfoot threatens to jail people as a method of fighting corona virus! In fact, this very mayor  opposed releasing those in Cook County jail who have not yet been tried, but are only in jail because they are poor and cannot pay bond. 

Equally stunning,  nurses in Lightfoot’s city recently protested at various hospitals over the conditions that endanger Chicago nurses working with coronavirus patients. At Chicago’s Cook County Stroger Hospital, nurses  exposed the criminal lack of protective gear, lack of screening of incoming staff each shift, and the lack of facilities to decontaminate after each shift. Nurses risk being contaminated, contaminating patients and other staff, and then bringing this home to possibly infect their families and the broader community. And they are retaliated against by management if they demand their rights.

There is no evidence Lightfoot heeded these frontline workers’ life-threatening concerns. Already 25 health care workers in Illinois have died from the virus.

Not just Chicago area nurses have protested the unwillingness of hospitals and the government to provide personal protection equipment (PPE) and unsafe working conditions for coronavirus nurses and doctors.

Trump declared a national health emergency March 13. Coronavirus deaths then totaled 40. After eight weeks of this “national emergency” the official death count is over 75,000. These facts show the government has no functional plan. Every day it displays to the world it is incapable of responding. Fifty years ago the United States would have been leading the international battle to fight the pandemic. Today, China, Cuba and other countries partially fill that vacuum, while the US cannot cope with the situation inside its own borders, reduced to blaming its incompetence on others.

The US has been underfunding the community health centers and programs which could have played a valuable role in combating the spread of the virus. State public health departments have lost more than 55,000 staff since 2008. The present ineffectual US “shelter in place” programs does not compare with those in China, which are combined with public health programs and systematic preventive measures to combat the virus, touched on in this short video. A further problem is our trust in the government to protect our welfare is at historic lows. Not being able to look to government for guidance, the only safe option many people find  to avoid the virus is to stay home.

A fair percent of healthy or young people do not consider the virus a serious threat, and object to the on-going, ineffectual shutdown by flaunting or protesting it.  In addition, a quarter of all small business owners predict they will close for good if the state and country do not re-open inside of two months. 

People should be protesting the city, state and federal government’s unproductive response to the coronavirus. The government spends $106 million an hour on “Defense” but cannot even provide PPE to nurses or tests for the population to defend us against this present danger. In the future, we will again face virus pandemics, with some being more lethal than this. And we will be facing the much deadlier global warming disaster. The coronavirus has forewarned us of the government’s hapless response, and it is up to us to prepare an alternative.

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