I don’t want to judge too hastily. Something good may come of President Donald Trump’s offer to “send in the Feds” if Chicago authorities can’t curb the city’s homicide crisis.
Something good may result from a Trumpian White House intervention, either because of it or in spite of it.
But I might be more inclined to think that sending in “the Feds” was a promising idea if I knew which “Feds” he’s talking about.
His offer came via Twitter, like so many of our new president’s other policy views. On Tuesday, the fifth night of his presidency, he tweeted, “If Chicago doesn’t fix the horrible ‘carnage' going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24 percent from 2016), I will send in the Feds!”
Three things were striking about this tweet. One, Chicago has a lot of feds in town already, whether the president knows it or not.
Chicago police have been working for years with the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency and other top federal crime-fighters. Together, they’ve gone after gunrunners, drug dealers, gangbangers and others who have driven shootings and homicide numbers up. The city also receives millions in federal grants to assist police and support anti-violence social programs.
Two, Trump’s tweet was notable in that, unlike most of his little missives, it actually contained data, hard numbers that suggest our tweeter-in-chief actually might have done some research. Trump, normally a man of few words that he repeats a lot, usually prefers to wing it, typing whatever springs out of his head.
A clue to that little mystery popped up later that evening as eagle-eyed reporters noticed how closely his data matched the numbers in a commentary earlier that evening by host Bill O'Reilly on his Fox News program, “The O'Reilly Factor.”
“(Can) President Trump override Chicago and Illinois authorities,” O'Reilly asked, “and stop the murder?”
Trump apparently thinks so. Or, at least, he has good reason to expect his conservative base of supporters to think so.
And, three, to Trump’s conservative following, I am sure his mention of “the Feds” was interpreted as code for martial law, which is the sort of draconian measure that often is favored by people who don’t actually live in the affected neighborhoods.
Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear from a concerned reader who wants to know why martial law has not been imposed to retake violence-plagued streets on the city’s South and West sides.
It’s not that kind of crisis, I tell them. Chicago’s South and West sides are not Aleppo or Mosul, although on a noisy night they can sound like it. Armed troops are useful in quelling riots or guerrilla uprisings. Chicago’s recent violence tends to come from domestic quarrels or petty beefs between small neighborhood cliques that turn violent, experts say, and lead to retaliatory shootings.
The city had 762 homicides last year, higher than New York and Los Angeles combined. But morale is so low in the department, according to the Chicago Tribune, police street stops have fallen by 82 percent over the previous year.
That’s one of the messages in a year-long review that the U. S. Department of Justice recently released. It describes long-standing patterns and practices of excessive force, civil liberties violations and poor training of officers.
Result: toxic relations between police and the communities they serve. Witnesses don’t cooperate, crimes don’t get solved and police officers are further endangered.
National Guard can assist police in some situations, but most of them are not trained to be police. Putting them on the streets could invite more abuses that make police community relations even worse.
The Trump administration could help Chicago buy more equipment, hire personnel and beef up community policing training programs to gain more neighborhood cooperation.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel welcomes White House help. The city’s too broke for him to afford to say anything else.
Unfortunately, Trump said back in August that Chicago’s crime problems could be solved by “being very much tougher.” Why? He says he was told by “very top police” that a tougher stance could end the city’s violence problem in a week.
Right. If that were true, it would have happened long ago. The elections are over. It’s time for Chicago and the White House to drop the politics and pick up some practical solutions.
Reach Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.