AG talks Chicago crime, ‘progressive prosecutors’ and mistakes made in Kenosha

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CHICAGO — United States Attorney General William Barr was in Chicago Wednesday and WGN’s Ben Bradley spoke with him regarding Operation Legend.

WGN Investigates take you inside Operation Legend — the influx of federal agents tasked with helping Chicago police combat violent crime.

The nation’s top law enforcement officer was not shy about his approach to violent crime.

As shootings and murders soared in Chicago this summer, he assigned more than 200 federal agents to stem the bloodshed.In many cases, that’s meant picking-up where local prosecutors and judges leave off.

“When I was down in the district they went over the number of cases where a very violent guy with the number of prior felonies – 7 or 8 felonies and violence and guns involved – were let out on the street and committed another homicide,” he said. “They were let out on the street and committed another homicide. That’s not the exception, that’s increasingly the rule around here. These people have criminal records and have to be taken off the streets.”

In the last two months, federal prosecutors have charged 124 people in Chicago, 90 involved gun crimes. Among them was Javonte Williams. Williams was arrested and prosecuted locally for possessing an illegal handgun while looting in August. 

On social media, he allegedly bragged about what he had stolen and when someone suggested he’d be caught wrote: “I’ll be rite bac out.’

He was — within days.

The convicted felon was then hit with federal gun charges and remains locked-up.

Barr isn’t criticizing Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx by name, but the implication is clear.

“I think we need to inform the public of what’s happening at the state level and what is necessary to fix it so it works. It’s becoming increasingly non-functional,” he said.

Barr said he would love to see “progressive prosecutors” voted out of office.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot initially fought the federal intervention fearing it would be a Portland-style occupation. But the mission in Chicago and in nearly a dozen other cities has been different.

Despite a significant surge in murders and shootings this year, now there’s a fight for credit for a 50% decline in murders since the federal help arrived seven weeks ago.

Barr met with officers on the frontlines of the fight in the Englewood neighborhood.

It comes at a time of heightened emotions surrounding law enforcement and their tactics.

The attorney general rarely criticizes cops, but on Wednesday, he did concede police need to do more to help the public understand how and why potentially fatal force is used.

“I think the rule here should be there are no absolute rules and yes, generally it’s best not to put out information piecemeal and have all the facts come out together,” Barr said. “But in the current environment where we’re operating, where there’s rioting and property destruction and so forth, sometimes there should be exceptions to that.”

Barr did not say how much longer Chicago can expect the extra federal resources to stick around.

Lightfoot did not meet with the attorney general during his visit,  instead sending him a letter that now asks for more help on the federal front, including universal background checks and more money to trace gun crimes.

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