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Episode Notes

Gun violence in neighborhoods on Chicago’s south and west sides is a decades-long problem experiencing recently renewed media attention. In this episode of Planet Lex, host Daniel B. Rodriguez talks to Zach Fardon, a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, about the complexity of the problem, the root causes, and what can be done to address it. Their discussion touches on the distrust of law enforcement, the struggling public school system, and the role of federal law enforcement in providing aid to Chicago.

Former U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon is managing partner and head of litigation at King & Spalding’s Chicago office and a partner in the Special Matters and Government Investigations practice.


Planet Lex – Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Podcast

Chicago’s Gun Violence Epidemic



Intro: Welcome to Planet Lex, the podcast of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law with your host Dean Daniel B. Rodriguez, bringing it to you from Chicago, Illinois. Take it away, Dan.


Daniel B Rodriguez: Hello and welcome to Northwestern Law’s Planet Lex, podcasting from the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in Chicago. I am your host Dean Dan Rodriguez.

My guest today is Northwestern Law visiting distinguished scholar Zach Fardon. Zach was the United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois from 2013 until early 2017. Under his leadership the US Attorney’s Office was recognized for numerous significant investigations and prosecutions involving international terrorism and terrorism financing, public corruption, corporate fraud, violent crime, narcotics and gangs.

As US attorney Zach directed the implementation of project Safe Neighborhoods, a federal anti-gun violence initiative with the Chicago Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Now he is Managing Partner and Head of Litigation for the Chicago Office of King & Spalding, and I have been delighted to have him we have welcomed here as a visiting distinguished scholar at the law school during this year.

Zach led an incredible series of discussions over the course of the year featuring different perspectives on Chicago’s gun violence problem. He opened a series with a lecture on what he learned about the issue as US attorney, then held five panels featuring law enforcement, non-profit and community leaders, local government officials business and philanthropy leaders, and finally, amazingly high school students from some of the neighborhoods most plagued by gun violence. Thank you for joining me today, Zach.

Zach Fardon: Thank you, Dean.

Daniel B Rodriguez: So I want to start with your experience with gun violence as United States attorney, you penned this remarkable document, this open letter in early 2017 after not to bring up bad memories but after the so-called Obama administration holdovers in the US attorney’s office were roughly asked to resign by President Trump, another topic for another day, but you drafted this incredible open letter calling for reform in the Chicago law enforcement community’s efforts to combat gun violence. To the listeners I strongly commend the letter, all six pages of it, but for the purpose of this podcast, can you summarize the content of that letter and explain your decision to write something so public?

Zach Fardon: Sure. I mean, the nub of the content, Dean, was it was my honest and earnest recitation of how I came to see the gun violence epidemic in Chicago based on my learnings and experiences as US attorney for those 3.5 years including the distinction between the short-term trends and gun violence in the long-term realities of the epidemic, and then I offered a list, not exhaustive, not magical, but a top five list indicating some things that I thought and think can and should be done to help address the gun violence issue.

Daniel B Rodriguez: I want to get to some of the specifics, but just looking at the issue from 10,000 feet, many things struck me about this letter. But, you began on the one hand with some truly bad news, and by bad news I don’t mean just describing the statistics, which are horrific of gun violence and unabated. You talk about the present, but you also talk about the past in 2012, 2013, 2014, really over the entirety of your time here. But you also humanize it, these are real people, early on in the letter you talk about the killing of Hadiya Pendleton, that happened not long after you taken office, and then 2014 Laquan McDonald, and many others you could have named.

So, these are of course are human issues, but the letter presupposes a great amount of optimism, just the time and energy and trouble that you would take to suggest these solutions suggest that there really is to be optimistic. And again, we want to get into some of the actual suggestions, but what gives you that optimism that we could really turn this corner?

Zach Fardon: There are number of things, first and foremost, just critical mass of good will and philanthropy and likeminded people who care deeply about this issue and are committed to trying to bring us to a better place. I was not plugged in, in a way that I am now. Before I was the US attorney I had this great honor, I spent hundreds of hours focused on the gun violence epidemic, and I had this great honor to meet so many different people from so many different walks of life who care deeply about this issue and who for the most part are like-minded in terms of the causes of the long term epidemic and the things that need to happen to solve it. And then on the philanthropy side, I came to learn that there is so much money already being invested toward addressing these issues and that much more that I think could be invested if there were greater kind of efficiencies and focus and sort of optimism about how that money would be spent in long term solutions.

So look, I am an adoptive child of Chicago, I grew up in the South East in Knoxville, Tennessee, I had never set foot in the City of Chicago until 1997, when I came up here to serve as an assistant US attorney it wasn’t even a dream of mine that I could ever get to serve in the various capacities I have including as the United States attorney here, and I find myself, here 20 years later now in love with the City of Chicago deeply respectful of the people of Chicago and optimism built on the back of my belief that we have passionate earnest, altruistic people in this town who want to bring us to a better place, and when you have that, then you start to focus on and be honest about the root causes and the underlying problem, then I think there is a pathway to success over-time.


Daniel B Rodriguez: So, let’s turn back to some of those root causes. You talk about the basic paradigm that exists particularly in specific neighborhoods in Chicago, you talk a bit about that, what is it that is happening in Chicago that gives rise to this incredible epidemic of gun violence?

Zach Fardon: Well, you mentioned in the panel series that we’ve had here over the last five months and I want to thank you in the law school for allowing me to host that series, because I do think there have been some pretty amazing moments during the course of that in terms of just honest and impactful discourse, and maybe particularly about those root causes, I think you mentioned the kids and I think especially if you were to sit down for an hour and 15 minutes and watch that video and what I am about to say, would have much greater resonance than it will coming out of my mouth.

But the bottom-line is this, as I said in the letter, for decades, the neighborhoods that are disproportionately impacted by gang and gun violence, which is a small percentage point of Chicago’s overall geography and populous, less than 10% of those neighborhoods in the South —

Daniel B Rodriguez: And for those who maybe listening who are not Chicagoans typically the South and the West sides of the city?

Zach Fardon: Correct, yes, and it’s a small piece of the footprint, and those neighborhoods for decades have been neglected. The poverty rates in those neighborhoods generally runs two-plus times the average poverty rate of other neighborhoods in the City of Chicago. Those neighborhoods, if you drive through them you will notice that they do not have the typical super markets and grocery stores and targets and other commercial businesses that you might come to expect, the infrastructure is not as strong, the roads are not as good, the public transportation is not as good, the schools struggle, there aren’t as many businesses there, there aren’t as many opportunities there.

And so they stand right with poverty and suffer across the Board in those categories, and meanwhile, we have kids growing up in those neighborhoods often in single parent homes. You heard from that youth panel a few weeks ago, the reality that often in those households there is no father or father figure present. And so kids at early ages sense hopelessness, I think young kids growing up in those neighborhoods often don’t believe that they are worthy of higher education, they don’t think they are smart enough, which is not true, and they don’t see a pathway toward opportunity in terms of a decent job or wage.

Daniel B Rodriguez: How about the schools, just to bring it back to the beginning before we even get the higher education, the predicament of the Chicago public schools. I mean, we are bouncing around a lot of big topics, I am just focusing on those neighborhoods, do they found the opportunity in their attendance in school, in those neighborhoods?

Zach Fardon: Some do, and I don’t mean to undersell and Jadine Chou, who is the Head of Security for CPS was part of this panel discussion and some of the schools do great work in those neighborhoods, in their lives literally they get saved by good teachers and principals in those neighborhoods, but they were remised not to observe that the graduation rate is those schools is lower than it is in other neighborhoods and the college attendance, the secondary attendance education rate is much lower than it is and other neighborhoods.

There really isn’t the expectation that you have in a lot of Chicago neighborhoods that kids are going to go high school, do well, graduate from high school, go to college and beyond, that’s the expectation I grew up with not in Chicago, but I think most Chicago kids and most neighborhoods that’s the expectation they grew up with. That’s upside down in these neighborhoods, that’s not the expectation, that does happen for certain kids and their heroic teachers and educators out there who make it happen, but it’s not the expectation, and obviously, it needs to be, we need to create an ostensible pathway to self-identity and success for these young folks, because right now they don’t see it and what fills that void, as I said in the letter “gangs”, gangs are everywhere, and the gangs adopt these children at very tender age and did not fully appreciate this until I was US attorney, but we are talking first, second, third grades the kids are starting to gang.

Daniel B Rodriguez: And what are they doing there on the — I mean, if those of us who learn about this from watching the Wire and other programs, are they the ones who are out in the stoops of homes, lookouts and –

Zach Fardon: Yes, and look, at that age it’s mostly social. It’s when I say, first, second, third grade, it’s not like gang members handing first graders guns and saying go out and sell, no, that’s not how it works, it is a social affiliation, it’s a network of people who distinguish themselves through their gang affiliation and by having other gangs that are rival gangs that you do not cross those lines and you do not socialize.

Daniel B Rodriguez: And the folks who were up the network food chain, were the heroes to these —

Zach Fardon: Yeah, that’s absolutely.

Daniel B Rodriguez: — substitute for their fathers or others.

Zach Fardon: To the extent that they see success in front of them in those neighborhoods, that’s what success often looks like and that is part of the problem. So by becoming affiliated with those gangs, at an early age, over-time those kids find themselves in a position A of carrying guns and B of making often just impulsive decisions that result in people dying and people going to prison.


And that’s a fundamental part of this paradigm that regardless of the ebbs and flows, that’s true today, we are having 25+% down from shootings and homicides from this time last year and that’s great and we are all very happy about that trend.

But that paradigm is as true right now as it was a year ago or two years ago or five years ago or 20 years ago and that’s part of what we need to back-up and address.

Daniel B. Rodriguez: I want to come back into the neighborhoods as it were. Before I do that, let me take a step out of the neighborhoods, and I was struck by a news item so I live in the Gold Coast, I live in a fairly affluent part of the city not far from where we are now in the law school, and there was a recent carjacking, really less than a week ago.

And fortunately, no one was killed but there were a couple of folks shot and then quotations from folks in the neighborhood, immediately in the aftermath was essentially, well, this doesn’t happen here. This is not our city. This happens elsewhere in those particular neighborhoods and it really reinforced precisely this point as there is a strong and profound sense, maybe distinctly about Chicago, where it’s, violence in these other neighborhoods that does not impact and touch and get on to the attention span of so many of the more affluent or even relatively upper-middle class folks in the community.

It sounds like that’s a correct characterization. How to get out of that mindset?

Zach Fardon: It is a correct characterization although the gun violence very much impacts them because to the extent you have national listeners, those national listeners know that when people think of and talk about Chicago outside of the City of Chicago —

Daniel B. Rodriguez: You and I experience it all the time. I get in the cab in Tokyo, Japan or in Amsterdam or certainly in other parts of the country, they are like, Chicago, everybody is killing each other all the time.

Zach Fardon: Right, gun violence and so that becomes definitional to the city which hurts our economy and hurts us in all sorts of ways. And so, I mean, I think what has to be done about that is we have to find ways to cause people, to motivate people who are not living and growing up in those neighborhoods or rather that was not sort of immediately impacted, don’t have those issues directly in front of them to get them involved, to get them invested.

You started by asking me about my optimism. I believe that we have the tools to get there, and one of the things that makes me optimistic is we’re not talking about 50% of Chicago, you can say two Chicagos, you can say Chiraq, this ain’t 50-50. We’re talking about 7% or 8% somewhere in that neighborhood of the geographic footprint and the overall populace.

And so we can focus on that limited geographic footprint and we can take all of these folks who like you and me have been so fortunate in so many different ways and whether it’s money or the ability to serve as a mentor or working in afterschool programs or you have celebrities, you have athletes, you have different people who can pay it forward in different ways.

If we find a more focused way to bring all of that to bear in those neighborhoods, just within the four corners of the City of Chicago, just the people who are here, I know that we can shift that paradigm over years but we have to — people have to, we need leadership and the people have to won it.

Daniel B. Rodriguez: You mentioned what we mentioned a couple of times the remarkable last panel of the series that involved talking to the kids and one of the things that I was struck with being there is some of the — just listening, an engagement with these young people, without the access to these role models. I mean, it’s pollyannaish to say that that’s the solution, it’s far from the solution, but the engagement where they are in the neighborhoods and engaging them in a way, certainly seem to reinforce precisely that optimism.

Zach Fardon: I completely agree. And look, here’s what I would say to your listeners and thank you for the plug about the panels and you can go online and watch the videos and I would ask you also, jump 10 minutes in, get through the introductory stuff and forgive my stammering as I ask those kids questions.

Because the substance of what came out of the mouths of those young leaders in those neighborhoods is striking, is remarkable, not only for its honesty and its earnestness, but they do not unduly view themselves as victims. These are just good kids who face tragic circumstance.

Daniel B. Rodriguez: Even though, everyone of them, every single one of them had been touched in some way by gun violence.

Zach Fardon: Correct. Well, look, I mean, these are kids so this is all definitionally beyond their control. They don’t decide where they’re going, they don’t decide where they are waking up in the morning and walking outside, for the most part, where they are going to school and whether or not there’s a grocery store or a bookstore somewhere in the neighborhood as opposed to just a liquor store and a gas station.

And yet these kids have I think the savvy and the intellect to sort of understand fundamentally that they are in that predicament, know that it’s not right, know that it’s unfair, speak very honestly about what happens to their peers. These kids were sitting here at Northwestern Law School because they have made good choices over time.

Many of their peers have not and these kids know kids who have been shot and they know kids who carry and who shoot, and you heard some of the statistics from their mouths about the percentage of young kids that carry weapons, firearms in these neighborhoods.


And so, if you are talking about optimism, I mean, you focus on those young folks recognizing that they are living and growing up in these – 14, 15, 16, 18-year-old kids growing up in these neighborhoods and I think there’s no way not to number one, feel passion and commitment to trying to change that paradigm to where they see the same advantages and realities that you and I see here and did growing up.

And number two, empower them to help lead the way forward for their friends, their peers, their neighborhoods because unfortunately, there are too many kids that don’t find that pathway to good choices and only fall prey to the bad choices that they wake up and walk out the door.

Daniel B. Rodriguez: They may be irreversible. Let me dig in a bit, if I may, to some of the root cause and some of the elements of this law enforcement and the difficulties, we mentioned the McDonald shooting, and of course, that’s been a predicament not unique to Chicago, but it certainly plagued the city and so many other cities.

The gun violence inflicted on citizens by law enforcements obviously a complex phenomenon. To what extent does that — I mean I am not sure exactly how to come at the question, the distrust of law enforcement in this community, the inadequate training of police officers, all of that. How does that play into it?

Zach Fardon: Look, Dan, I said I put a list in that letter, top five things. The number one thing was get that consent decree. And I say that as somebody who spent more than half of my 25-year career in law enforcement, working with police officers. I love and respect police officers, if I could still be working with them now, I would be.

And yet, I will tell you, I was part of the Department of Justice Pattern and Practice Investigation, I was part of Asking For and initiating that investigation, and it is because, as I said in the letter, you can’t do a good Police Department on the cheap and you have to have — police officers have to have the trust and respect of the communities they serve.

Otherwise, people in those neighborhoods will not cooperate with police officers when they’re conducting investigations, which is one of the reasons we have one of the worst homicide solve rates in the city of any city in the country. And so the fundamental problem and it’s laid out in tremendous detail in the DOJ Pattern-or-Practice investigation findings, which I helped to pen and I stand by; the fundamental problem is not that police officers in Chicago are bad or poorly trained or malicious.

Most officers are good. The lion’s share of officers are good in doing good work. Problem is, you have a number of bad officers as well, where you have 13,000 police officers, here’s a newsflash, you are going to have some bad apples in there, there is no exceptions to that rule.

Daniel B. Rodriguez: Absolutely.

Zach Fardon: So, when those bad officers do bad things, there needs to be accountability. They need to be held accountable and accountable on a reasonably quick basis, otherwise, the public loses faith and confidence.

Daniel B. Rodriguez: Including civil damages, including criminal prosecution, including – so there’s as you know —

Zach Fardon: There are lots of different vehicles.

Daniel B. Rodriguez: There is immunity issues, there is all sorts of —

Zach Fardon: There are lots of different vehicles for accountability, and I know with the Laquan McDonald case, for example, people were and are frustrated by the time that the justice system has taken to address it from a criminal justice perspective and that has to be balanced with wanting to make sure that the presumption of innocence is honored, and that due process for charged defendants is honored, and also efficacy of investigations and making sure that prosecutors get things right.

So there is a balance there but whatever the vehicle for accountability, whether it’s internal to the police department, whether it’s through the civil liability system, whether it’s through the criminal justice system, people have to see if bad cops do bad things, they are held accountable, and nobody needs that more than the good cops.

Because the good cops are out there, everyday trying to do their jobs, trying to solve crimes, trying to engage in community policing and develop relationships and keep those neighborhoods safe, and yet, that taint of the bad cop wears off on the good cop, if there’s no accountability that’s manifest to the public at large.

Daniel B. Rodriguez: Absolutely. Let me talk about another element of law enforcement, one of course that’s been at the core of your career, which is prosecution. So, you mentioned about these poor choices and individuals making, perhaps irreversible choices. And these are individuals who often prosecute, they prosecute may be through the juvenile system, they prosecute after their juveniles, the mass incarceration problem.

So, I am going to ask this sort of in an overly provocative way, aren’t the district attorneys’ and the US attorneys’ part of the source of the problem, they are aggressively prosecuting these individuals and they are going away for years?

Zach Fardon: No, I don’t think that they are part of the source of the problem. Number one, I do think mass incarceration is a problem and it’s something that needed to be addressed and I was part of the Obama administration at the time that Smyrna Crime was implemented. I was on Eric Holder’s Attorney General Advisory Committee, what we call the AGAC, I was part of those discussions and think that the Smyrna Crime Policy which was designed to ratchet down the number of really onerously long draconian sort of prison sentences.

Daniel B. Rodriguez: They are so-called, I mean, California, the Three Strikes.

Zach Fardon: The mandatory minimums.

Daniel B. Rodriguez: That mandatory minimums.

Zach Fardon: Yeah, so I think that that policy which has now been unwound was a sound policy to address what I think had been an undue reliance on incarceration as a vehicle for addressing underlying issues related to violence. Having said that, and I said this, I think at the first talk I gave as part of this panel series and I will say it again now, everything hard in life is about balance and law enforcement and prosecutions is also about balance.


There are bad people who are intent to do bad things, and when they get caught they need to be prosecuted, and in some cases they need to be sent away to prison, and in some cases that needs to be for a long time period hard stop.

I believe that as much now as I did my day one as a prosecutor in 1997, and yet, back this morning on crime, I have no doubt that over the course of decades and particularly in our urgency to address the narcotics epidemic, the flow of first cracked cocaine, the powder cocaine and heroin into our communities that those mandatory minimums began to result in sentences that were longer than necessary to both serve as punishment and deterrence and to protect our communities. And so that balance got askew.

I don’t put that on the prosecutors, although I do think every prosecutor and myself included needs to struggle every day and I came to work every day and I think many of my colleagues here did as well, recognizing we are people, we are imperfect, it’s an imperfect system, we have to constantly be asking ourselves what are we doing, why are we doing, in what sentence are we asking for, why are we asking for that sentence?

But, I don’t point blame at the prosecutors for that phenomenon. I think we as a nation have to address and react to the data and the statistics in the paradigm as it evolves and I think that, that is part of what was happening during Eric Holder’s tenure in the Obama administration and I’m disappointed with the —

Daniel B. Rodriguez: It’s not happening now.

Zach Fardon: — with the swing in the pendulum back; and again, I understand the rationale that’s been articulated by this administration for wanting those more draconian sentences and seeking the mandatory minimums. But I fundamentally disagree with it and I think it’s going to set us back in terms of the long-term struggle to address the real core issues here.

Daniel B. Rodriguez: Well, focusing on the current administration, there has been much attention there was during the campaign when Donald Trump was running for President, and since he was elected that — that Chicago is terrible and awful and it’s gang violence, and we are just going to sort of bring in the troops as I am oversimplifying, but that the problem is really associated with these truly awful gangs.

Is there a role to play; and if so, what is the role to play for Federal Law Enforcement sort of scooping in and to really deal with the worst of the worst of the gang?

Zach Fardon: The number two thing I said in that letter, “Give us more federal resources. We need 15 to 20 more assistant United States attorneys’ federal prosecutors who can investigate and prosecute gang and gun violence-related cases.”

I do think that I for one was glad and I say this in honor. I was glad at the time that the President was paying attention to Chicago and calling out the violence epidemic in Chicago, because I would wake up every day wanting more help, more resources, more attention to these.

Daniel B. Rodriguez: Brought the spotlight to that.

Zach Fardon: Yeah, bring the spotlight to that, and yet where are the additional resources, where are the additional prosecutors, where are the additional agents and there have been some in patches here and there, but no more than in prior administrations.

I think the Federal government has a great responsibility. We’ve left the topic of the consent decree, but I had strong feelings on that issue as well. This is to me a national crisis. This is a social justice issue that has constitutional implications and has national self-identity implications.

We have 5, 6, 7-year-old kids who can’t walk two blocks to school without getting hit by an errant bullet. And that is unacceptable in the United States of America, and I doubt, the President or anyone else is going to disagree with that.

The answer is, as I said in the letter, isn’t sitting in the National Guards and just basically shut down those neighborhoods and create war zones, that sends exactly the wrong message. As I said in the letter, if you just focused on the statistics over coming months, yes, that will have a positive impact, but it’s overtime going to make those neighborhoods worse and not better because of the message it sends to the people who are growing up and trying to raise their families in those neighborhoods.

We need more Federal resources, we need more local resources, we need more business and philanthropy and not-for-profit and all of those sectors have many great people doing important work. But that’s sort of the point of drawing a circle around this epidemic and asking people to really —

Daniel B. Rodriguez: And see its complex from that.

Zach Fardon: — own the understanding that it is complex, and understanding that, I said this as US Attorney, I’ve said it over-and-over again as part of this panel series, this is a generational issue. This is not something that — this year despite the fact that we are having a good year and I am very, very grateful for that, we are not going to be declaring victory this year or next year or two years from now or five years from now.

Daniel B. Rodriguez: Because this is still bad, they may be less bad than they were.

Zach Fardon: They may be less bad. My first two years, Dan, and you probably know this as US Attorney, but 2014-15, we saw the lowest homicide rates since 1965 and 1967 in the City of Chicago respectively.

And so those were relatively quiet years as well, and I was — believe me as US Attorney, very grateful for that, but it didn’t change that the 1-2 punch that I articulated at the beginning of this conversation, small number of neighborhoods that are not okay, not okay now, weren’t okay before and we kids, disproportionally in this town versus others, I think kids who were both trigger pullers and who are getting killed by errant bullets and otherwise.

And those two things are just not American. We can’t accept that as a society and so I do think it is first and foremost the Chicago issue. Those of us who live here and love this place need to step up and help address this issue. But yes, I believe it’s a Federal issue and I don’t think that there have been sufficient Federal resources and attention.


Daniel B. Rodriguez: When I was listening to you, I was also refreshing my recollection of your letter and I want to make sure it was right in my recollection. There’s not a lot in the letter about the availability of guns and the phenomenon of gun control, which is very much in the news. These mass shootings and school shootings and all of that, we, Chicago sufferers like other communities suffer, but my observation is, well, those are horrible suffering. We get an attention drawn quite rightly to issues about availability of guns and AK-47s and shootings in schools, that’s not really what you and I are talking about here, the epidemic of gun violence in the community, but I do want to ask, are part of the solutions just getting these guns off the street?

Zach Fardon: So, the CPD takes 6,000-7,000 guns off the street every single year and has for a long time, more than most other major police departments. So, there are a lot of guns coming off the street. Our city has porous borders, it is easy to drive —

Daniel B. Rodriguez: Indiana, the gun traffic from Indiana.

Zach Fardon: And which has much looser gun regulations. You can go to a gun show in Indiana and with the driver’s license buy a bag of guns and drive across the border and there’s nothing law enforcement can do about that.

And so, that’s one of the reasons I didn’t address it. I do think there are too many guns. I do think there needs to be better gun regulation. I think there are ways that we can leverage technology particularly to try to improve that overtime.

Having said that I suppose I also accept the premise that we are going to have guns in society and if bad guys want to find guns, bad guys are going to find guns. And so —

Daniel B. Rodriguez: We also have the Second Amendment.

Zach Fardon: We had the Second Amendment.

Daniel B. Rodriguez: We have protections, protections of gun ownership that if I may, the argument is, folks who live in the west and in the south sides shouldn’t be disabled to their constitutional rights.

Zach Fardon: A 100% agreed. I grew up in the southeast and my dad had shotgun under the bed the whole time I grew up.

Daniel B. Rodriguez: Sure.

Zach Fardon: And I do not, I mean I respect the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms. Having said that, clearly there is a problem when you have kids, teenagers walking around, carrying especially the kinds of statistics we heard from that youth panel, where it’s 50%, 60%, 70% of teenagers walking around on these neighborhoods, carrying firearms.

And so, I do think we have to figure out ways to do more and do better on that front, but I also don’t think it’s a panacea, it is not AK-47s that are killing kids in these neighborhoods for the most part, they’re just handguns for the most part, and I don’t think that wherever it’d be like trying to get all the fish out of Lake Michigan to get all the handguns out of the City of Chicago, even if you wanted to it was legal, which it’s not, you couldn’t do it, and so that’s why I chose this letter to focus on what I think are really the underlying issues that cause kids to be in a position to be carrying that firearm in the first instance.

Daniel B. Rodriguez: Well, I am so glad that you — I mean, I appreciate, and we appreciate all the work you do, particularly appreciate both in your presentations and in the panels you organized in our conversation today. You are helping us keep the focus that you did in the letter on widespread systemic issues and solutions.

So, if I may characterize the last thing you said it’s about the guns, but it’s really about much, much more, it’s about opportunity, economic opportunity and social justice in those communities.

So I sort of — and I hope this is true of our listeners, I circle back to that optimism because of the commitment, State and local and Federal authorities have to have to provide opportunity in those communities. And then you and I wouldn’t say then the gun violence problem solves itself, but boy, would then we make some really substantial headway.

Zach Fardon: Yeah, amen. So, back to the Panel, we’ll see a reason for anybody who wants to go look at those videos, and you take these off, but from the law enforcement leadership community, from the not-for-profit leadership community, from business and philanthropy community, and from the local government community you heard some really smart people who are not dealing with these issues superficially, these are folks who are steeped in living and breathing these issues all the time and this is just convergence of ideas and consensus of views about the fact that this is a multifaceted problem that requires multifaceted solutions over a very long period of time. Folks get it, and again, I think the philanthropic support is there, and I think things are improving in a variety of ways at least from my perspective, but we need more hands on deck.

I mean, frankly, when you asked me last summer if I was interested in affiliating with a law school, I told you I’d be honored to do so, but I also told you that I wanted to do something that matter. And my next thought was the Northwestern Law students, who are going to be graduating now, are going to be out there practicing the way I was in 5 years and in 10 years, and they are going to have whether that in a private sector or the public sector, they are going to be making decisions about how are they investing their time, their intellect, their leadership, and there is no issue to me that can or will be more important than this issue over the long haul.


I worry about ebbs in statistics causing people to get distracted by other issues, because there are lots of issues that we face in the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois, but this issue is again one about who we are as a society, and this paradigm that we’ve been living with for years is unacceptable. We have to change it. So, I am hoping that more-and-more people will step up and embrace and become part of this.

Daniel B. Rodriguez: Well, I really pressure that. It’s notable too. We have many listeners of this podcast series who are throughout the United States, and we have many of our students at our law school at Northwestern who go off to practice throughout the United States and throughout the world.

And so while we spent appropriately time focusing on our beloved city, on Chicago, if all the stakeholders get together and really can develop constructive solutions to this problem, that can be a template for dealing with these issues in any large urban city, because the citizens of Philadelphia care about their beloved cities, citizens of Los Angeles care about their beloved city, and gun violence is not unique to Chicago.

Zach Fardon: Yeah, in apropos of that I just want to make this clear, I’m not and I don’t think any of us are pollyannish, we don’t pretend that we can just sort of waive some magic wand and the poverty and the challenges with infrastructure and the educational issues these kids face are going to be solved.

But I do think that we have — in the City of Chicago, we have so much strength, so much strength across the board in so many different ways. It is to this day my favorite city in the world, and again, I’ve never even set foot here until I was 30-years-old in 1997, and moved up here.

And so, leveraging that strength to help us get past this paradigm and past this issue will make us better and stronger, not only here but across the United States of American and across the world, nothing can stop Chicago in my view, but we need to get past this issue to really shine the way this city deserves to shine.

Daniel B. Rodriguez: Well, as the saying goes when the Lord closed a door as it were by your untimely removal as US attorney, He opened a window, and the window is really just the credible work that you’ve been doing here, at the school and throughout the community. I want to say, on behalf of all Chicago, I really appreciate your help and your leadership on this issue.

Zach Fardon: It’s my honor and I appreciate the opportunity to continue this discussion in such a great form.

Daniel B. Rodriguez: Thank you. Well, that’s our show for today. I want to thank Zach Fardon for joining us this morning and I want to say on behalf of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, thank you joining us.


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The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Northwestern University, Legal Talk Network or their respective officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders, and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.



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Episode Details
Published: June 20, 2018
Podcast: Planet Lex: The Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Podcast
Category: Legal News
Planet Lex: The Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Podcast
Planet Lex: The Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Podcast

Planet Lex is a series of conversations about the law, law and society, law and technology, and the future of legal education and practice. In other words, a bunch of interesting stuff about the law.

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