McDonald’s chief executive, Chris Kempczinski, has sparked outrage after the emergence of a text exchange with the Chicago mayor, Lori Lightfoot, in which he appears to blame two Chicago parents whose children were fatally shot.
In the newly publicized texts between Kempczinski and Lightfoot from April, Kempczinski blamed the parents of 13-year-old Adam Toledo and seven-year-old Jaslyn Adams for their deaths.
Adams died in a shooting at a McDonald’s drive-thru one day before the text exchange. Toledo had been killed by a Chicago police officer weeks prior, with video later coming out showing that the child had his hands in the air.
“With both, the parents failed those kids which I know is something you can’t say. Even harder to fix,” wrote Kempczinski in a text to Lightfoot.
Lightfoot texted back, “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 to reach out to the operator to offer support. He and his team members have got to be traumatized. Terrible tragedy. Thanks again, Chris.”
The texts were obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. Images of the correspondence were also posted in a Twitter thread about McDonald’s workers striking across the country.
About 30 protesters who gathered on Wednesday outside McDonald’s headquarters in Illinois for a demonstration organized by a dozen organizations including the Chicago Fight for $15 and a union condemned Kempczinski’s comments, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Children were also present, with boxes looking similar to a McDonald’s Happy Meal reading “McGarbage” and “Evil” as well as a banner asking Kempczinski to “take care of your workers so they can take care of us”.
Organizers also sent Kempczinski an open letter critiquing his comments and requesting that he meet with protesters within seven days.
“The CEO doesn’t understand or know our struggle. He’s blaming parents for violence on the streets and that’s not fair,” Adriana Sanchez, a McDonald’s employee from the Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago’s south-west side, told the Tribune.
“These corporations exploit our communities and then dehumanize our families … Enough of the exploitation, enough of the ignorant racist comments.”
In a message to McDonald’s corporate employees on Tuesday, Kempczinski said he reflected on his comments and expressed remorse.
“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,” said Kempczinski. “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.”