AS ONE who loves Chicago, I hope President Donald Trump is not toying with my affections.
So far, the native New Yorker had been treating Chicago like the weather; he can’t stop talking about it, but is there really much he can do about it?
He’s been talking about Chicago’s violence epidemic since a June 29, 2015 meeting with the Chicago Tribune editorial board, which he addressed as if he was bringing news of which Chicagoans already were not painfully aware:
“CRIME in Chicago is out of control, and I will tell you, outside of Chicago, it’s a huge negative and a huge talking point, a huge negative for Chicago,” he said. “You’ve got to stop it. You’re not going to stop it by being nice. You’re going to stop it by being one tough son of a bitch.”
Right. This is the same Big Apple city slicker who had so poor of a grasp of the obvious that he refused to accept President Barack Obama’s birth certificate until it became a political liability.
Trump has made numerous other references to Chicago’s homicide problems as a candidate and nominee — and at least four more times in the first three weeks after his inauguration.
IN EACH instance he sounds sympathetic, bemoaning how terribly “sad” Chicago’s situation is. Hosting a meeting of county sheriffs in the White House, he segued into how Chicago’s “hundreds of shootings a month” are “worse than some of the places that we read about in the Middle East, where you have wars going on.”
The problem is bad, although Trump’s numbers are inflated. Chicago did record more than 700 homicides last year for the first time in 19 years. That was more than New York’s and Los Angeles’ numbers combined.
The reasons are multiple, an imperfect storm of long-simmering distrust between police and civilians, a flood of guns from neighboring suburbs and states, huge financial deficits in city and state budgets, political gridlock holding up funding for violence reduction programs — you name it.
There’s plenty of blame to go around with city and state government leaders — and plenty are blaming. Trump has joined in the chorus, prompted at least partly by the commentators on his favorite news network, Fox News.
CHICAGO, Democrat-controlled like most major American cities, has long been a target of conservative criticism, even more so after the city’s favorite son Obama became president. Suddenly, its local woes became a convenient symbol for national Republicans who wanted to highlight Democratic failures.
Sure, the city’s leaders bear the main responsibility for its success or failures. But now that Trump, a native New Yorker who used to vote Democratic until he found greener pastures in the Grand Old Party, has stepped into the problem, he also owns a piece of it. He needs to do more than use Chicago’s woes as an excuse to pander to his own base.
That sort of cynicism was most apparent in a Jan. 24 tweet that threatened to “send in the Feds” if Chicago didn’t do something to reduce its violence. Besides revealing his apparent ignorance of the federal law enforcement agencies that already are working with Chicago’s police, Trump’s tweet was notable in its duplication of statistics and language broadcast in Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show the previous evening.
IS TRUMP paying attention to the words coming out in his tweets? He had earlier tweeted on Jan. 2 as president-elect that Chicago should ask for “federal help,” even though Mayor Rahm Emanuel already did just that in a New York meeting with Trump on Dec. 7. How soon we can forget.
Yet Trump is full of surprises. Without any advance public notice, he signed three new executive orders late Thursday after he swore in newly confirmed Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The orders direct Sessions to establish a task force and produce at least one report within the next year with recommendations on how to reduce violent crime, illegal immigration and drug trafficking.
THE conservative, get-tough approach to crime-fighting favored by Sessions and Trump runs counter to the findings of a just-completed Department of Justice investigation of Chicago’s police. Obama’s DOJ was not shy about using civil rights laws to force police departments across the country to change how they interact with suspects and citizens — the opposite of what is suggested by Trump’s threat to “send in the Feds.”
If he’s truly interested in helping Chicago, Sessions will study the DOJ’s report with an open mind. It details how poor training, low police morale and a cover-up culture contribute to poor relations between police and citizens. It would be a mistake to discard those findings.
Getting tough isn’t everything. To get the violence under control, Chicago must first rebuild trust between its police and the communities they serve.
Those of us who love Chicago and other similarly troubled American cities should care less about who’s liberal or who’s conservative than about what works.
(E-mail Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(c) Washington Post