ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara and Winnebago County State’s Attorney stood behind Police Chief Dan O’Shea on Friday, who said he wished to clarify comments “taken out of context” and shared widely on social media.
“I fully understand that people have different interpretations about what I said…I want to make it real clear, at no point did I think I was putting out the message that I don’t care about 16 or 17 year olds in this community,” O’Shea said Friday.
O’Shea came under criticism after a clip taken from a May 18th press conference was shared on Twitter.
The May 18th press conference was given due to an increase in violent shootings and murders throughout the city committed by juvenile offenders, including one incident where suspects fired on a Rockford Police officer.
O’Shea said, “The 16, 17-year-olds running around shooting each other, we’re not wasting our time trying to save them. They are lost. We’re trying to focus on 4 or 5-year-olds all the way up to 12 or 13, where we have a chance at saving them, changing their lives and changing the direction they are going in it.
“Seventeen-year-olds that go around committing murders and shooting at people, yeah, well, sorry. Off to prison you go. I got nothing for you. Your family failed you up until this point and there is nothing that we can do for you.”
You can watch the original press conference here in full.
A protest group called Rockford Youth Activism singled out O’Shea’s comments from May 18th in a list of demands, calling for O’Shea to rescind his comments.
A petition was formed on Change.org calling for O’Shea’s resignation.
“We were talking about a significant rise in crime committed by juveniles,” O’Shea said Friday. “I have never thrown away anyone. [We were talking] specifically about kids who were shooting one another. I thought I was clear, but apparently it was not.”
“We spend half the time [in the police department] trying to communicate with kids of all ages, with all the ROCK Houses, interaction, all the games,” O’Shea said. “Rockford is a great city, that works together, stands together.”
Hite Ross backed up the chief, saying his statements were taken out of context, saying he was responding to “a significant increase in juvenile crime. Both chief and I believe it was a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which inhibited programs that were meant for children.”
This comes a day after McNamara publicly stated that he did not support the comments made by O’Shea.
At a Thursday press conference, McNamara said “I want to say, number one, that I do not agree with Chief O’Shea’s comments. Every single person who calls Rockford home is valuable. They’re worth fighting for.”
On Friday, McNamara also voiced his support for O’Shea, saying, “The chief has done a tremendous job. I know where his heart is. More than that, I know what his actions are.”
McNamara added, “During this difficult time, we’re here to listen. We’re here to act.”
He encouraged representatives of protest groups to reach out and meet with city leaders.
“Reach out to us. We want to talk. We want to have meaningful conversations,” McNamara said.
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