SAFE HOME CHICAGO: Why (and how) Chicago MUST curb its crime in time for the DNC this August.

Chicago Civic Media
6 min readJan 26, 2024

by Steve Sewall, Chicago Civic Media (updated 2/24)

In August the hot glare of national network TV will shine on Chicago hosting the 2024 Democratic National Convention (DNC).

So under this glare will Chicago be hosting — or roasting?

As things stand, roasting. Today Chicago is in the grip of a citywide crime wave. Helplessly so. The worst in memory. Everyone feels it.

If Chicago is this violent in August, America will likely see a repeat of Chicago’s violent 1968 DNC. Which sent underdog Richard Nixon to the White House past favored Hubert Humphrey that November.

Just think of clips of brutal Chicago violence endlessly airing on hard-on-crime national FOX News to discredit the city’s allegedly soft-on-crime mayor, Brandon Johnson . . . and Democrats everywhere.

But that’s only the half of it. The DNC 2024 confronts Chicago with not one but two security threats, external and internal. Which compound each other.

Doing this requires that Chicago transfer some 1,000 beat police from residential areas to convention areas — from a force of 11,711 already undermanned by 1,500 officers lost since 2019.

  • Internally, the threat is Chicago’s out-of-control crime. So far, the city is ignoring it. And this August criminals will target Chicago’s underpoliced neighborhoods.

To risk repeating the travesty of 1968, Chicago must secure itself against both threats. That’s the DNC spotlight challenge. Sounds unmeetable, right?

But Chicago can meet the Challenge. It can curb its crime by August.

It won’t be easy. Chicago’s heavily armed, drug dealing, youth victimizing street gangs have terrorized the city nonstop since the 1960’s. While shootings are falling, other crimes, like robberies and vehicle hijackings, are skyrocketing.

But with sound, strategic thinking, Chicago will meet the DNC Challenge. To see how, let’s fast forward.

It’s August 19, convention day one. The DNC TV spotlight on The City By The Lake is warm. Welcoming.

Chicago met both DNC Challenges, local and external. Chicago’s media stepped up to help Sweet Home Chicago keep itself safe before, during and after the convention.

But what’s captivating America these days is Chicago’s seemingly superhuman ability to curb its citywide crime in just six months — after six decades of failure.

Long tagged as America’s urban violence poster child, Chicago is a beacon of safety and resilience. Even national FOX News is impressed. Grudgingly.

People speak of a Chicago miracle. The City That Made Itself Safe.

But no miracle was involved. Just common sense, Chicago guts and good teamwork. And a playbook called Safe Home Chicago (SHC).

Safe Home Chicago was pragmatic. Strategic. And businesslike.

Here’s how Chicago pulled it off, month by month.

In February, two city leaders who saw the need to meet the DNC Challenge met with two media leaders who saw the profit potential of using media to help all Chicagoans — citizens, police, City Hall — curb Chicago’s crime.

Together, they devised a pro-Chicago strategy:

The theory: fight negative national DNC media fire with positive local media fire. The practice: preempt the disempowering DNC TV spotlight by throwing an empowering local TV and media spotlight on Chicago from February through August. Throw it on a citywide violence reduction contest that Chicagoans have decided to win. Throw it on Chicago’s six-month drive to curb its crime by August. And call it Safe Home Chicago.

But the four leaders had to know: would Chicagoans actually step up to help get the job done? To find out, they devised two tests.

The first test began in Late February with City Hall’s blessing and input. Chicago’s media presented Chicago to itself (and America) as a great American city publicly weighing the risks and rewards of meeting the DNC Challenge with Safe Home Chicago.

The rewards were enormous. But so were the risks, including outright failure, as the presentation kept saying. But the greatest risk, as Chicagoans insisted in a groundswell of reponse, was doing nothing. Pretending the Challenge didn’t exist. That, they said, was flat-out unrealistic. Dangerous. Unworthy of Chicago.

Chicago had passed its first, informal test. Its second, formal test would come during the Commitment phase of the three-phase SHC process of Exploration, Commitment and Operation:

1. EXPLORATION In February and early March, Chicagoans had informally weighed the pros and cons of SHC and the DNC Challenge in their favorite media.

2. COMMITMENT Now, in mid-March, a monthlong televised SAFETY SUMMIT would enable Chicagoans to a) debate and discuss SHC, b) vet dozens of violence solutions and c) formally commit to or decline SHC.

3. OPERATION If Chicago committed to SHC, its media would inform, inspire and mobilize Chicagoans to curb city crime by August 19. (If it rejected SHC, Chicago would deploy a Plan B developed during the Summit.)

Either way, Chicagoans would know what their city was doing. Despite continuing divisions, the SHC process, overall, would unify and strengthen the city.

Five common sense principles would guide this process:

  1. Reject Unsolvability. Reject the pervasive, defeatist acceptance of violence as a harsh, unsolvable fact of Windy City life, like brutal Chicago winters.
  2. Affirm Solvability. Affirm violence’s solvability when (and only when) Chicagoans, police and City Hall team up to solve it. No blaming, just solving.
  3. Build Teamwork in rule-governed public forums that get Chicagoans and their leaders listening to and learning from each other. Forums that tap deep into the experiences of all 2.6 million Chicagoans: their insights, talents, skills, wisdom, and the boundless energy when working together to make their homes, neighborhoods and city safe.
  4. Create Unity based on the citywide yearning for safety that unites all Chicagoans (including most criminals). Expect of feuding city leaders that they put aside their differences long enough to help make Chicago safe.
  5. Create Agreement on the causes and cures of violence:
    -- Causes. Explore all aspects of the violence that arose in the 1960’s with Chicago’s street gangs: cultural, historical, economic, racial, political, sociological and law enforcement.
    -- Cures Enable Chicagoans to vet ALL promising violence solutions, whether developed by major agencies or by Chicagoans of all ages and backgrounds.

Throughout this unifying, team-building process, Chicago’s media will be aggregating the Market of the Whole of all Chicagoans with a stake in the safety of their homes, neighborhoods and city.

Profitably so. Because that’s every man, woman and child in the city.

And advertisers will be targeting and bonding with parts of this citywide market.

The strategy was simple. And market driven. Yet revolutionary.

In mid-March, a Chicago TV station formally launched it with a historic, ongoing Safety Summit. Televised Sunday evenings and sponsored by area corporations, it enabled Chicagoans to carefully weigh the pros and cons of SHC, with a final decision due in mid-April.

Overnight, this weekly 90-minute program was the talk of the town. Debate was serious, free and intense. Viewers and experts vetted violence solutions submitted by Chicagoans of all ages and backgrounds.

Chicago’s media covered, critiqued and enhanced the summit much as they cover, critique and enhance Chicago Bears’ telecasts. Ratings soared.

On April 14 Chicago publicly commited itself to curbing its crime by August 19 via citywide poll and a press conference of city leaders.

Its commitment was front-page news nationwide. It was game on, Chicago.

The city was pumped. Its media were bringing out the best (as well as the worst) in Chicagoans, police and City Hall.

Throughout April, dozens of promising safety projects, large and small (often low cost or no cost) were researched, created, vetted, launched and even evaluated in the Safety Summit and other media.

By May, the citywide energy fueling Chicago’s televised drive to meet the DNC Challenge matched that of the televised championship drives of Chicago’s beloved pro sports teams.

Late May, however, saw a surge of homicides over the long Memorial Day weekend. Morale fell. But Chicago had something to prove to itself. And to the nation. Chicagoans hung tight.

In June, safety projects launched earlier took root. Crime rates declined.

In July, despite a violent July 4 weekend, the decline was decisive.

When the DNC opened on August 19th, Chicago stood tall. Mayor Brandon Johnson lauded America’s historic I Will City as America’s first digital age We Will City.

Chicagoans felt a new sense of pride, citizenship and ownership.

Sweet Home Chicago had pioneered the depolarizing power of good citizenship. Of the digital age citizen/consumer.

As Daniel Burnham said in his 1909 Plan of Chicago, After all has been said, good citizenship is the prime object of good city planning.

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© 2024 Steve Sewall, Chicago Civic Media



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