Brandon Johnson won Chicago’s tight mayoral race last year against tough-on-crime candidate Paul Vallas with the message that he would prioritize long-term solutions to gun violence. But while Johnson pursues that pledge, the neighborhoods facing the brunt of the crisis are waiting for relief that can make their streets safer now.

Princess Shaw is a lifelong “Lawndalean,” and she’s raising her family’s fourth generation there. Like many other Lawndale residents she knows, she voted for Johnson, but has been disappointed by the lack of urgency she feels in getting help to neighborhoods like hers. In North Lawndale, shootings rose by more than 11 percent in 2023 compared to 2022 — a jump that followed a 40 percent decrease the previous year. Shaw supports long-term fixes that address the underlying reasons why violence occurs, but hasn’t seen the Johnson administration release any comprehensive plans for triaging danger in the short run. 

“What are we supposed to do?” she asked. “Just hope and wait?”

Johnson promised to tackle the root causes of violence by investing in youth, mental health care, affordable housing, violence prevention organizations, and restructuring the focus of law enforcement. In his first year, he has made progress funding many of those initiatives, including youth programming and mental health care. Even so, some neighborhoods like Shaw’s are still living on the edge. While Chicago’s gun violence has dropped a little over 33 percent since its 2021 peak of 4,000 shootings during the pandemic, some neighborhoods, like North Lawndale, Austin, and the East Side, saw a rise in 2023. 

Veronica Higgins, a resident of the East Side, said she hasn’t felt the citywide decrease in gun violence in her neighborhood. Her son, Ronnie Roper, 28, was shot and killed last year on May 17, after leaving the Roseland outreach center for Chicago CRED, a gun violence prevention nonprofit. He was rebuilding his life, she said, but never got the chance to do so. Gun violence has become more senseless, she said, describing a pattern she’s recently observed: Previously, small arguments became fights; now, they tend to be more lethal, often escalating into shootings. It’s a serious problem, she said, that everyone — including the mayor — needs to address urgently.

In response to those calling for a quicker fix, Deputy Mayor of Community Safety Garien Gatewood said the administration understands their sense of urgency. In the short term, the administration is using data through a program in the Community Safety Coordination Center to redirect emergency responders to areas that need them the most. It is also expanding the city’s partnerships with on-the-ground violence interrupters by funding their work and creating channels for them to work closely with the Chicago Police Department, which is coming up with new strategies to drive down violent incidents. 

Several Chicagoans The Trace spoke to, like Higgins, said they understand that gun violence can’t be fixed overnight. Many, Shaw said, feel forgotten by the person they elected to be their leader. “Seeing that he is from our community, it’s a little disheartening,” she said. “Hey, we need help too, where’s our help?” 

Johnson’s Administration Focuses on Root Causes of Violence

Dick Simpson, author of “Chicago’s Modern Mayors: From Harold Washington to Lori Lightfoot,” said Johnson is working to fulfill his promises, albeit at a different speed than his predecessors. The mayor announced his staff and released his plans later than previous administrations, but that pace, Simpson said, doesn’t affect Johnson’s ability to accomplish his proposals overall.

Simpson, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois Chicago, said it’s more important for Johnson to have the support of the City Council. Former Mayor Harold Washington didn’t receive a majority in the Council until three-and-a-half years into his tenure, making it harder for him to enact reforms early on. Johnson’s proposals tend to garner majority votes already, Simpson said, which makes it easier to execute his ideas.

Before releasing a plan for community safety at the end of last year, Johnson’s administration took time to hear the concerns of leaders in business, philanthropy, city departments and disinvested communities, Gatewood said. During Lightfoot’s administration, some violence prevention workers said they were being left out of the conversation. Gatewood said it’s important for the Johnson administration to include these stakeholders and coordinate the work between different departments so they build out an infrastructure that allows them to be consistent.

The Trace reviewed Johnson’s campaign promises related to gun violence reduction and public safety. This is where he is today with those goals.

Mental Health

Johnson promised to expand Chicago’s mental health services by reopening the six facilities former Mayor Rahm Emanuel shut down; he also supported the Treatment Not Trauma ordinance, which would dispatch emergency medical technicians and mental health professionals — not police — to 911 calls related to mental health.

In his first year, the mayor’s approved budget allocated a $15 million increase for mental health services, which would include the reopening of six clinics in the next four years. In October, the City Council approved an ordinance creating the Mental Health System Working Group, which will publish a report in May on the reopening of these clinics and plan the launch of Treatment Not Trauma. Chicago’s Department of Public Health is also working to recruit and hire more health professionals.


During his campaign, Johnson, a former social studies teacher, promised to include youth in conversations about public safety and to give them more resources to help keep them away from criminal activities. 

So far, he’s set aside more than $76 million for youth programming and year-round employment. This past summer he increased employment in One Summer Chicago, a city-led job opportunity program, by 19 percent, or 4,000 more kids and teens. This year, the Department of Family and Support Services will fund a pilot of the Peace Book initiative, which convenes youth-led, trauma-informed neighborhood commissions that promote peace and safety. 

Restructuring the Chicago Police Department

One of the narratives that captivated voters during the mayoral election was Johnson’s desire to move away from continued investment in police. Instead, Johnson said he would promote more officers as detectives to investigate the vast number of unsolved shootings, eliminate the gang database — which had many errors that led to racial profiling — remove officers with ties to extremist hate groups, and end the ShotSpotter contract, which a 2021 report recommended in part because of its ineffectiveness.

In September, Chicago’s Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability voted to eliminate the gang database, and before Johnson was even elected, the group started working with law enforcement to create a policy that bars officers from joining any hate or extremist groups. Johnson’s approved budget also shifted Police Department resources to fund the hiring of 100 more detectives this year, 70 of whom have already started. This month, Johnson announced that the city will terminate its contract with SoundThinking, formerly known as ShotSpotter, and end its use of the gun-detection technology by September. 

Expanding Funding and Work of Violence Intervention Programs

Johnson promised to continue collaborating with violence intervention and prevention organizations. Just this month, organizers, along with public and private partners, announced a plan to raise more than $400 million for the expansion of the work to targeted communities, including Austin, Englewood, East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, Little Village, and New City. Johnson is supporting these efforts and has set aside $100 million in unspent stimulus funding for anti-violence programming.

Investing in Basic Resources

In November, the City Council approved the passage of Bring Chicago Home, a measure introduced by Johnson and his Council allies, that would raise the real-estate transfer tax on property sales above $1 million to fund homelessness services. In March, Chicagoans will vote on the measure. In September, Johnson announced a partnership with the Economic Security Project that would lead to the creation of a municipally-owned grocery store that would promote food accessibility and equity. He has also supported continuing Lightfoot’s guaranteed basic income program, but with more funding for a smaller group of people. 

Is it Enough?

While some residents are seeking more direct follow-ups, others remain excited by the mayor’s approach to public safety. “Johnson understands the perspective of people who have gone through violence,” said William Guerrero, a 22-year-old Pilsen resident who was part of the mayor’s Latino youth group last year. 

Past administrations have put a Band-Aid over the problem, he said, but Johnson’s is working to address the scars and wounds of what Chicago has endured for a long time. But, Guerrero added, it’s important that community members do their own part to hold one another accountable by staying involved. He said Johnson “can’t do it alone.”

Many people now view gun violence as a public health problem, said Peter Cunningham, a spokesperson for Chicago CRED. “The fact that we have everybody – business, foundations, community, and government – all aligned, who have similar goals… it’s kind of a miracle,” he said.

Elizabeth Herrera, a participant of Marwen, an art-focused youth program, and a resident of Albany Park, is only 16 years old and still can’t vote for mayor — but she is watching what Johnson is doing to help young people like her. Violence isn’t as bad as the media sometimes portrays it, she said, but added: “I’m still kind of scared that anytime I go out something bad might happen.”

When she’s able to vote in the next mayoral election, she will be looking at whether candidates like Johnson follow through with their promises. Credibility, she said, is everything.