Q&A: Mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green talks goals for city, views on police and political rival Willie Wilson

Jamal Green sits at Northwestern University behind a white background speaking to students in front of him
Ja’Mal Green speaks with Northwestern students on the university’s Evanston campus. (Jason Beeferman/MEDILL)

By Jason Beeferman
Medill Reports

Mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green is only 27, but he’s no stranger to the Chicago spotlight. For nearly a decade he attracted attention as a Black Lives Matter activist and young political hopeful. He has also led calls to reform the Chicago Police Department and faced arrests during multiple protests. More recently, he helped pressure Chase Bank to commit $600 million in mortgages to Black and Latinx homeownership in Chicago.

From Northwestern University’s Evanston campus, Green sat down with Medill Reports to discuss his top priorities as mayor, his perspective on how to deal with gang violence and how he will manage a police force he has butted heads with over the years.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.


What do you plan to do on day one, if elected mayor?

Ja’Mal Green: I plan to sign an executive order to ban the boot and seizures of vehicles for unpaid tickets. We have to stop the practice of immobilizing and stealing vehicles in this city.


What’s your No. 1 goal for office?

To get our city safer. It’d be public safety. To start investing into communities, into people and to make sure resources are throughout communities (so) more families want to stay in Chicago and raise families.


Your campaign has a contentious history Willie Wilson’s. Wilson has polled among the top contenders and has millions of dollars behind his campaign for mayor. How do you activate his base to support you instead?

He definitely is gonna have some cold supporters, but I don’t think he’s gonna have enough to win this race, as he does in every race he runs. And it’s not a hit against him, because I think he’s somebody who continues to give in this city. He just wouldn’t be the right mayor for this town. At the end of the day, we’re focused on activating people who usually don’t vote, and we’re putting our message and our platform out there. We’re going to win those TV debates that come up soon in the next few weeks. Once that happens, there’ll be a lot of supporters from every person in this race that comes to our side.


In 2021, you said, “We don’t have a gang problem in the city of Chicago, we have quality of life problem.” You’ve also said, “Gangs today are not powerful,” but in your campaign launch video, you touted your experience with defusing gang rivalries as a reason to elect you. So, is there a problem with organized crime in Chicago?

I don’t think there’s a problem with organized crime. When you have conditions that aren’t addressed – not investing in communities; not investing in young people; schools are underfunded; a lack of community centers, mentors and all the things they need – young people relate to someone else on their block and come up with a name for their group. They create these cliques. The root of it is the conditions they’re being raised in. If we address those conditions, the next generation of young people won’t feel they should be going to the street to find other people who relate to them and engage in a life of crime.


You have made police accountability a centerpiece of your campaign, even proposing officers carry liability insurance to cover the cost of misconduct lawsuits against them. You’ve also said there’s “no such thing as a good cop” within a system that’s racist –

I don’t know if I said that last sentence.


You tweeted in 2021, and please correct me if I –

I don’t know if I said a system that’s racist, but I did say it’s hard to be a good cop with the policing we have today. If the model of policing is to cover up for each other when one does wrong, how can there be a good cop when a good cop has to protect their pension, protect their family and experience racism in their own department? How can you be a good cop when you’re going to have the union against you, your colleagues against you, when they’re going to take everything away from you just from speaking up? We must change the model of policing and this whole “good old boys’ club” and make it a support system for the community, make it easier for police officers to be able to voice their concerns without being retaliated against and start to change the way policing in general is in our communities – from an oppressive force to a supportive force.


The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have frequently sparred during her term. What will be your approach to dealing with the organization and its leader, John Catanzara, whom you’ve had a contentious personal history with?

Hopefully he won’t be there by the time I’m mayor. … But what I will say is that as mayor, I got to work with everybody. I don’t like John Catanzara. We have fought many times publicly over the years. But as mayor, I need to work with him because he represents police in our city. We need to negotiate in good faith and come to a compromise on what needs to happen and how the city will treat the police officers that he represents. I believe in compromise, and I’ll be a compromiser.


You’ve been to dozens of protests over the last decade, and you’ve been arrested multiple times at those demonstrations, including for resisting arrest in 2016 and for disorderly conduct in 2021. What have you learned from those experiences?

They will always arrest or try to silence anyone who speaks up against the powers that be. We need to change that. We cannot continue to meet folks, who are tired of their conditions, with police and incarceration. America’s just in love with incarceration, and that needs to change. Many people want change. Thousands of people protested with me over the years. Tens of thousands of people, I would say, and we’re willing to risk anything to get the results that we need.


Jason Beeferman is a video and broadcast graduate student at Medill. You can connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.