A Jan. 24 tweet by President Donald Trump has prompted an intense dialogue about what role the federal government might have in mitigating Chicago’s gun violence problem, with an array of West Side leaders offering their own suggestions about how Trump can help solve a problem that many say he should see with his own eyes.
“If Chicago doesn’t fix the horrible ‘carnage’ going on,” Trump tweeted last month, “I will send in the Feds!”
According to recent crime statistics released by the Chicago Police Department, the city logged 51 murders in January 2017, roughly the same number of murders logged in the previous January. There were 234 shootings and nearly 300 shooting victims.
As Supt. Eddie Johnson told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, host of “All In with Chris Hayes, during a televised town hall held last week on the South Side, an overwhelming majority of that gun violence takes in five of the city’s 22 police districts.
“And out of those five, three — two on the West Side and one on the South Side — drive the most violent crime,” Johnson said, referencing the West Side Harrison and Austin police districts and the South Side Englewood police district.
Since Trump’s January tweet, one of his advisers, Cleveland pastor Darrell Scott, has reportedly been meeting with people the pastor described earlier this month as Chicago’s “top gang thugs” in an effort to “lower that body count.”
In a recent report, the Chicago Tribune identified at least one of the “gang thugs” Scott was referring to as anti-violence activist Torrence Cooks, who told the paper that, after hearing Scott’s remarks, which generated immediate backlash on social media, he contacted the pastor to clarify that he wasn’t a thug and has never been a member of a gang.
“Cooks said he’s been busy over the past few weeks meeting with like-minded people across the city — in Englewood, Roseland and on the West Side — who all want to do something to assist,” the Chicago Tribune reported, adding that he and Scott are planning a summit on the city’s violence.
The details of that summit have not been spelled out, but last week, numerous city leaders, many of them on the West Side, offered their own recommendations on what federal intervention should look like, and responded to Trump’s infamous tweet and the president’s recent attempts at outreach.
“We welcome any help that is substantial, that is resourceful … But the pain is much too real to be anybody’s football,” said Rev. Marshall Hatch, pastor of the New Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, during a Feb. 7 press conference held at Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St. in Austin.
“This isn’t a topic for tweeting,” said Deputy Mayor Andre Zopp during the MSNBC town hall. “It’s a serious issue [and] we’re working to address that violence.”
“The back-and-forth, the Twitter war, that doesn’t mean anything to people in some of our most crime-ridden and impoverished neighborhoods,” said Lori Lightfoot, the president of the Chicago Police Board. “They look to leaders to solve problems, not paint them [as] two dimensional.”
Many of those who spoke during the town hall formed the consensus opinion among those gathered that the city’s gun violence requires more than mobilizing federal law enforcement officials or hiring more police officers.
“The feds have completely cut youth jobs,” Zopp said. “We have a youth jobs program here that the city funds, we don’t get any federal support. The U.S. Attorney’s office here has the lowest rate of gun prosecutions of any U.S. attorney’s office in the country. We could use federal support.”
Trymaine Lee, a national reporter for MSNBC, said that numerous residents and community leaders told him that the city’s violence problem won’t change until those who seek to solve it start considering it in different terms.
“The violence is spread beyond the gun,” Lee said. “Poverty is violence. Hunger is real violence. The trauma folks are seeing inside the home, but also the repeated exposure to violence in the streets — people are wound up and traumatized — all of that is violent, but we don’t address that kind of violence.”
Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st) told Hayes that the federal government should start putting resources in services that support households, but that it should also committee more resources to traditional law enforcement measures.
“We must focus on parenting,” Boykin said. “If the federal government made a commitment to invest in parenting work with the faith-based community, with organizations that do professional parenting, we could turn this thing around.”
Boykin added that, since he considers the city to be in a “virtual state of emergency,” the federal government should send in “additional FBI agents, DEA agents and ATF agents.”
“We can’t police our way out of poverty, but we need them to help solve this clearance rate,” Boykin said, referencing the fact that fewer than 4 in 10 homicides are solved by police.
On Feb. 7, Rev. Ira Acree, the pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin who served as a delegate for Hillary Clinton last year, sent off a letter to the White House inviting Trump to Chicago’s crime-ridden neighborhoods.
“I unashamedly call on all the residents of these endangered communities of our city to welcome our president’s help in addressing the social despair that produces the violence,” Acree wrote. “Let’s not sugar coat it, these neighborhoods are dangerous.
“I beg to differ with those local politicians and bureaucrats who get offended when people compare Chicago to Afghanistan and other war zones,” he continued. “Chicago is a world-class city, but many residents live in terror, in what’s a virtual war zone. Public safety actually depends on which neighborhood you live in. If you live in North Park you’re safe, but in North Lawndale you’re not. Lincoln Park is safe, but Garfield Park is dangerous. The Residents of Edgewater live in comfort, while those in Englewood are in a crisis.”
Anti-violence advocate and former gubernatorial candidate Tio Hardiman said that he welcomes a possible Trump visit to Chicago, but added that the president should devote as much attention to the often overlooked West Side as he would the South Side.
“A lot of times, the West Side is ignored, because a lot of attention goes to the South Side,” Hardiman said in a phone interview last week. “Austin is one of the biggest communities in Chicago. Maybe Trump would put much-needed resources in Chicago to help us stem the tide of violence. Maybe we need start leaning on non-traditional people who aren’t always in the media, who are really out here saving lives.”
During the MSNBC town hall, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1st) invented a new slogan in the wake of Trump’s Twitter treatment of the city’s gun violence problem.
“I don’t know what Trump means when he says, ‘bring in the feds,'” Rush said. “My personal challenge to Trump is, Trump bring your rump into Chicago. Go into these communities and hear [from] these people who are on the frontline day by day. Hear what they have to say about their aspirations for their community.”