Mayor Brandon Johnson on Wednesday defended his “unique approach” to uplifting Chicago’s youth and continuing to welcome migrants, two demographics the new administration has pledged to support amid criticism that the city’s response has been lacking.

In a sprawling, one-hour news conference, Johnson stressed that the Chicago police order to arrest dozens during a large teen gathering last weekend in the South Loop was constitutional and compassionate. It was his first such session with reporters in two weeks, and the new mayor strove to walk a fine line between his campaign ideals of radical change and the reality of assuming the office of chief executive.

Police made the 40 arrests Sunday evening as large groups of youths refused to disperse after fighting and storming a convenience store near West Roosevelt Road and South Canal Street. The move to begin locking up teens at about 9:20 p.m. reflected a more decisive style from police leaders than in previous gatherings this summer, but Johnson underscored that the cops “attempted to engage with our young people, with community partners, giving as much warning as they possibly could.”

“That’s a unique approach. You know, many people expect us to treat people undignified. My administration is different,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, arrests were made. Unfortunately, some damage was caused. And the level of sensitivity and patience that our officers expressed, I’m appreciative of that. That is constitutional. That is a system of care.”

Large youth gatherings downtown have vexed Chicago police and other city leaders for the last decade, often springing up via social media flyers during warm summer months and sometimes turning violent. The mayor, who despite pushback has continued to vow that he will never demonize youth, elaborated Wednesday that his administration has “intercepted” other attempts at large gatherings that “could have been even more severe,” while also taking umbrage with the teens being described as a “mob.”

“That’s not appropriate. We’re not talking about mob actions,” Johnson said. “We have to be careful when we use language to describe certain behavior. There’s a history in this city, and, I mean, to refer to children as like baby Al Capones is not appropriate.”

Then the mayor addressed another just-as-formidable task: caring for the more than 12,000 asylum-seekers who have arrived in Chicago in the past year, despite an ongoing scramble for more funding and adequate shelter. But unlike his counterpart in New York City, Mayor Eric Adams, who recently warned migrants there is “no guarantee” of help there for them, Johnson reiterated Chicago’s commitment to welcome all.

“I can’t speak for his decision, but I certainly have used his, as well as (Los Angeles) Mayor (Karen) Bass’ and (Houston) Mayor (Sylvester) Turner’s, experiences as a way to reflect on that very question,” Johnson said when asked if Chicago would at some point actively discourage migrants from coming. “And here’s what I’m committed to: honoring the law of being a sanctuary city, in building systems of care that provide a pathway with dignity for individuals who are seeking refuge and hope here in the city of Chicago.”

But on thornier questions of the city’s financial constraints in coping with the crisis, the mayor was less specific beyond noting “as far as the sustainability of this moment, we’re going to need more support from the federal and state government.” Unlike Adams and some Chicago aldermen, Johnson did not go as far as criticizing the White House and noted that he’s had conversations with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and the city’s congressional delegation.

Johnson didn’t say how much longer the city can fund migrant care with current resources, nor when all migrants currently awaiting shelter inside police stations will be moved out. He did say that the asylum-seekers being moved out of the 1st District police station Tuesday in the South Loop was unrelated to the annual Lollapalooza music festival that will take place this week in nearby Grant Park.

“Transitioning individuals out of police stations is still top of mind,” the mayor said, before noting reports of migrants being cleared out of the 1st District with belongings tossed was “an inaccurate depiction of what happened. No one was moved as a result of Lollapalooza. We are transitioning people into shelters. As a city, do we want people living in police stations? Is that acceptable?”

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent his first busload of asylum-seekers north to Chicago in August 2022, arguing sanctuary cities should take on more of the burden of caring for migrants crossing the U.S. border. Chicago officials have at times struggled to respond in a timely and efficient manner, and the situation escalated in recent months with the arrival of new buses and planes of migrants ramping up.

As of now, hundreds of asylum-seekers are still sleeping on police station floors, and thousands more are staying in a city-run makeshift shelters, which have been the subject of complaints ranging from safety concerns to moldy food.

Most recently, more than 100 migrants were moved out of the 1st District police station and put on buses to a new shelter inside the Broadway Armory in Edgewater. Chicago sanitation workers threw away what the migrants left behind at the police station into a garbage truck — mattresses, children’s backpacks, shopping carts filled with food, rugs and clothing, though Johnson disputes that the move was by force.

“We’re going to continue to … help assist those families, all of whom understood and knew where we were transitioning them to — to the Armory (and) were all thrilled that we are providing far more stability for those families,” Johnson said.

Also during Wednesday’s media availability, Johnson expressed his full support for his hand-picked interim police Superintendent Fred Waller, arguing that Waller’s presence “has been absolutely remarkable” in building the department’s confidence. Johnson also addressed critics who said he could not earn the trust of his officers given his past rhetoric critical of police.

“I mean, I caught most of my campaign. Some of it I missed,” Johnson quipped about his mayoral run. “But people didn’t think that we can do that, that we can build the morale of rank-and-file members. And we’ve done that.”

Johnson also took a question about a WBEZ report that Waller was investigated for domestic violence in the 1990s; the mayor praised Waller’s “value system” and noted the allegation was not sustained.

And on the topic of the three finalists for Waller’s permanent replacement, the mayor demurred on whether he had begun interviewing them and pushed back on the notion that he is moving too slowly on his agenda.

“It’s important that we’re intentional and that we take our time so that we make the right decision,” Johnson said. “Too many decisions in this city have been rushed decisions.”