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 deficits in city and state budgets, political gridlock holding up funding for violence reduction programs — you name it.
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, Barack 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 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.
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.