McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski is under fire over a text exchange earlier this year with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in which he commented on the separate shooting deaths of two children in the city.
WBEZ-FM in Chicago reported Tuesday that activists used a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain communications between Lightfoot and Kempczinski in which the CEO commented on the deaths of Jaslyn Adams, 7, and Adam Toledo, 13.
After the mayor had visited the fast-food chain’s corporate headquarters in the city, she and Kempczinski exchanged messages about Jaslyn’s shooting death at a McDonald’s location, according to the report.
“[P].s. tragic shootings in last week, both at our restaurant yesterday and with Adam [Toledo]. With both, the parents failed those kids which I know is something you can’t say. Even harder to fix,” the McDonald’s CEO wrote.
The Chicago Tribune reported that Lightfoot responded: “Thanks, Chris. Great to see you in person. Such a great work space, and your folks were terrific. I said to Joe I would be happy reach out to the operator to offer support. He and his team members have got to be traumatized. Terrible tragedy. Thanks again, Chris.”
Jaslyn was shot and killed in a McDonald’s drive-thru in April as she sat in a car, WMAQ-TV reported. The car was shot at multiple times, with the child’s father, Jontae Adams, the intended target, according to a report.
Adam, meanwhile, was killed by a Chicago police officer in a high-profile incident in March. Body camera footage appeared to show the boy in that instance holding a handgun during a pursuit with officers.
After the McDonald’s CEO’s messages blaming both deaths on a failure in parenting, critics slammed Kempczinski and accused the messages of containing “racist” language.
WBEZ reported McDonald’s employees joined others to condemn the company CEO in an open letter.
“[Kempczinski’s remarks] provide some insight into why McDonald’s has failed to address its rotten, racist culture under your leadership,” the open letter said. “It’s clear to us you’re the one who has failed here. Your text message was ignorant, racist and unacceptable coming from anyone, let alone the CEO of McDonald’s, a company that spends big to market to communities of color and purports to stand with Black lives.”
When speaking with the radio station, one McDonald’s employee defended the parents of both slain children.
“He doesn’t know the circumstances of these parents,” a woman said of the McDonald’s CEO in Spanish. “A large number of them are single mothers who are just doing their best and sacrifice.”
That employee accused Kempczinski of being ignorant about the plight of poor Chicagoans because of his wealth.
City activist Baltazar Enriquez told the outlet that the CEO’s language when speaking with Lightfoot was troubling.
“[Kempczinski’s] words are very dangerous,” Enriquez said. “He’s not bringing any solutions to our community. Our community has given millions of dollars, billions of dollars, to the McDonald’s corporation.”
The activist concluded that the McDonald’s CEO “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,” Enriquez said, according to WBEZ.
A protest of the company is being planned.
Kempczinski on Wednesday commented on the backlash over the text message, the Tribune reported.
“When I wrote this, I was thinking through my lens as a parent and reacted viscerally,” he said. “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.”