Despite criticism, Mayor Rahm Emanuel says Safe Passage will work

August 22, 2013 (CHICAGO)

On Thursday, Chicago Public Schools and the city say they are ready for the start of school on Monday. But some critics still question if they are ready.

The routes are too long, the workers lining them in yellow vests are little more than crossing guards with phones; there has been abundant criticism of Safe Passage. Is it warranted or can school and city officials rightly say that much of that criticism is misplaced and undeserved?

People hired for Safe Passage say they're aware of criticism and doubt and routes that weren't defined until recently, but they believe it'll work.

"I think it's all gonna go well. Everyone has been trained. Some workers have been here since 2010 since then program started," said Tanya Butler, Safe Passage worker.

"You are our front line," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The mayor keynoted a rally of hundreds of Safe Passage workers who packed the Jones Center at Chicago State Wednesday. At one point, he invited everyone to turn and face the cameras so Chicago could see the faces of those on watch for the children of Chicago. And then he added this:

"And I want the people up there in the rafters if you want to throw something at the cameras go ahead and have at it. You let 'em know the City of Chicago is on watch for the children of Chicago," said Mayor Emanuel.

ABC7 was curious about the top half of that remark.

ABC7's Paul Meincke asks, "Was your remark yesterday inviting people to throw things at cameras a comment of frustration or what was it?"

"I don't know Paul, if you really wanted to spend some time on it, you could see the cameras ahead, there were all these people up there. It was just a joke, but if you're sensitive to it, I'll ask them, did they do it?" said Mayor Emanuel.

Meincke says, "They did not."

"OK, so don't worry about it," said Mayor Emanuel.

A joke from the mayor who would not directly criticize news coverage of Safe Passage issues, though some school officials privately have said they consider certain stories to have been alarmist.

Those may include two recent shootings, one fatal, on routes designated for Safe Passage, even though the shootings occurred not when monitors were there and further, that the mere presence of signs doesn't stop crime in areas that have seen it before.

"I want all our kids when they're going to school to think on that route, to think of their studies and not their safety," said Mayor Emanuel.

The mayor was at an event Thursday saluting a select group of principals for improved academics at their schools. As Safe Passage supervisor Tanya Butler mentioned, the program has been around for a few years, and one statistical measurement of it is that Safe Passage schools have seen an increase in attendance and a drop in crime. Monday begins the new phase.

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