Millionaire Chicago mayor candidate Willie Wilson says police should ‘hunt’ people like a ‘rabbit’ if they flee

A controversial Chicago candidate called for police faced with fleeing suspects to “hunt them down like a rabbit” during the first mayoral debate ahead of February city elections.

“Somebody run, chase somebody by foot or car, that police officer should be able to chase them down and hunt them down like a rabbit,” Willie Wilson said on Thursday during the debate.

Mr Wilson, a two-time failed mayoral candidate, prominent local businessman and philanthropist, previously attracted headlines for giving away over $1m worth of gasoline to Chicago residents.

During the debate, he hammered incumbent Lori Lightfoot, urging the Democrat to “take the handcuffs off the police” following a year of high murder rates in Chicago.

Ms Lightfoot told reporters after the debate she was taken aback by the comment, saying it harkened back to the era of Chicago police commander John Burge, who, as The Independent has reported, had a long record of abusing and torturing Black men in police custody.

“For a candidate for mayor to say we have to take the handcuffs off the police and let them hunt down human beings like rabbits, is an extraordinary thing,” she said. “I fully and utterly condemn it.”

Mr Wilson, meanwhile, told Politico Illinois he stood by his statements, and that violence in Chicago was a “personal” issue, because one of his sons was fatally shot.

“If someone murders another person, police should hunt the perpetrators down at all cost,” the businessman said in a written statement.

2022 among Chicago’s most violent years since the peak of the crime wave in the 1990s, though a Crain’s Chicago Business analysis found that most of the homicides were concentrated in historically impoverished neighborhoods. Chicago’s wealthier areas have seen record declines in homicides.

Policing has long been a central issue in Chicago, which has been under a federally mandated consent decree regulating its police practices since 2019. The decree came down the pike after a lengthy history of CPD misconduct, including the 2014 coverup of evidence in the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

Ms Lightfoot, former president of the Chicago Police Board, has faced criticisms for doing both too much and too little to check police abuses.

In June, following multiple police shootings, a new policy was unveiled forbidding officers from chasing people who flee, or suspects during calls about minor offenses.

The mayor has also controversially defended CPD’s decision not to fire an officer with ties to the right-wing group Proud Boys and allowed numerous Chicago police officers to skirt a city vaccine mandate.

Policing was a major topic during the mayoral debate from other candidates as well.

Brandon Johnson, a public school teacher with the support of some of the city’s unions, argued Chicago has one of the best-funded police departments in the country but still struggles with crime, pointing to a need to invest in other community services.

"You actually have to invest in people. It’s pretty straightforward,” he said. “There’s a direct correlation between youth employment and violence reduction."