McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski is under fire for a text message exchange with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in which he said that parents “failed” two kids who were slain earlier this year, referring to Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old killed by a Chicago police officer, and Jaslyn Adams, a 7-year-old killed at a McDonald’s.
In the April 19 exchange after Lightfoot visited the McDonald’s headquarters, Kempczinski wrote: “p.s. tragic shootings in last week, both at our restaurant yesterday and with Adam Toldeo [sic]. With both, the parents failed those kids which I know is something you can’t say. Even harder to fix,” WBEZ Chicago reports.
The text messages were uncovered after an activist filed a Freedom of Information Act request to release them.
Lightfoot has distanced herself from the CEO’s comments. “As the Mayor has said previously, families do everything they can — moms, dads, grandparents — to love and support their children, and tragedies can still happen,” a Lightfoot spokesperson said in a statement. “Victim shaming has no place in this conversation.”
Baltazar Enriquez, president of Chicago community group Little Village Community Council, said Kempczinski “should put his money where his mouth is. If he really feels that it’s the mothers’ fault, of them being the culprits of their kids’ deaths, then he should fund our communities with all the profits that he takes.”
McDonald’s employee, Adriana Sanchez, added additional context to the concerns: “Oftentimes we have to work two jobs because the wages are so low; we’re forced to sometimes leave our kids at home alone to go to work,” Sanchez told WBEZ. “We have to do the job of two or three employees and they allow customers to mistreat us.”
WATCH: McDonald’s worker, Deatric Edie, discusses her challenges working 4 jobs to make a living.
“[Kempczinski’s] words are very dangerous,” Enriquez added. “He’s not bringing any solutions to our community. Our community has given millions of dollars, billions of dollars, to the McDonald’s corporation.”
Activists have written an open letter to the CEO, which includes broader concerns about the fast-food chain “to address systemic racism at McDonald’s and beyond,” and references a recent lawsuit against the corporation.
“Dozens of Black former McDonald’s franchisees joined workers…, filing a $1 billion federal lawsuit blasting the company for ‘racial bias and barriers within the McDonald’s franchise system’ that forced Black owners on a “financial suicide mission.’ Your response to the suit, much like the murders, was to blame the franchise owners for ‘mismanagement.’
Community groups are also planning to protest, including Enriquez’s Little Village Community Council that has been calling for justice in Toledo’s killing.
UPDATE: In a note sent to McDonald’s corporate US employees, which was obtained by ESSENCE after publication of this article, Kempczinski stated, “When I wrote this, I was thinking through my lens as a parent and reacted viscerally. But I have not walked in the shoes of Adam’s or Jaslyn’s family and so many others who are facing a very different reality.
Not taking the time to think about this from their viewpoint was wrong, and lacked the empathy and compassion I feel for these families. This is a lesson that I will carry with me.”