As violence skyrockets in Chicago, Trump’s ‘police state’ strategy isn’t the solution

Good police work — not a police state — is essential to bringing down crime rates. But we also have the means as a city and a nation to do so much more.

SHARE As violence skyrockets in Chicago, Trump’s ‘police state’ strategy isn’t the solution

Chicago police officers investigate the scene of a deadly shooting where a 7-year-old girl and a man were fatally shot in Chicago on July 5.

Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times

In Chicago, 10 people were killed and 60 others, including 10 minors, were wounded in shootings over the weekend — and it was, shockingly, business as usual.

Chicago has now rung up double-digit gun killings in seven of the last nine weekends after going more than two years without one weekend in double digits, according to Sun-Times reporting.

We’ve sounded the alarm about this historic — and tragic — surge in recent weeks: A police slowdown seems to be enabling violent criminals to roam the streets more freely, and, as police Supt. David Brown said Monday, civic unrest in parts of the city is forcing his department to divert resources from the South and West sides, where gun violence is most rampant.

The city’s homicide count has surpassed 400. If things continue at the rate we’ve seen in recent weeks, Chicago will easily surpass the nearly 800 killings we saw in 2016 — the city’s deadliest year in more than two decades.

Sadly, Chicago is not alone.

Shootings are up 95% in Milwaukee, 57% in Philadelphia and 44% in New York. 

Enter President Rambo

President Donald Trump’s administration and Congress could do a lot to curb gun violence in Chicago and other big cities. Rather than help, though, the president has decided to get in the way.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is planning to send dozens of federal agents to Chicago this week, and the agency’s boss won’t say exactly what they’ll be up to. “I don’t need invitations by state mayors or state governors to do our job,” Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad F. Wolf said on Monday. “We’re going to do that whether they like us there or not.”

On Monday evening, Mayor Lori Lightfoot was aiming to prevent things from going off the tracks, asking the president to work with the city to deploy any additional law enforcement resources that might arrive. “What we do not need, and what will certainly make our community less safe is secret federal agents deployed to Chicago,” she wrote.

Earlier attacks this month on peaceful protesters in Portland, Oregon, by armed and uninvited federal agents without insignia and in unmarked vehicles have resulted in lawsuits filed by Oregon’s attorney general and the ACLU. It’s just another reminder the entire blustering Trump administration has no idea what it’s doing.

Rambo isn’t going to help us. Instead, the federal government should be pursuing sensible short-term and long-term strategies to quell violence at the same time the Chicago Police Department should be aiming to rebuild morale within its ranks and build bridges back to residents who simply don’t trust the cops, as Brown has advocated.

Target the guns used in crimes

The short-term federal strategy should be to target crime guns, as Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab told us on Monday.

Virtually all guns used in crimes on Chicago streets come from the suburbs or other states, mostly states with looser gun laws. That’s an immediate cause of Chicago’s gun violence. Yet, for political reasons, the federal government has handcuffed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ ability to monitor gun dealers to make sure they are not shoveling guns out the back door to criminals.

Which they are.

A number of potentially effective measures to address gun violence are pending in the U.S. House of Representatives or already have been sent to the Senate, where they sit and rot.

Among those measures promoted by Lightfoot on Monday, are beefing up the ATF and reordering its priorities to go harder after illegal guns; assigning more federal prosecutors to pursue charges against those who sell and possess illegal guns; closing gun law loopholes so that background checks are truly universal, and passing the Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abusers Act — to further take guns out of the most irresponsible hands.

If Trump really wants to help, this is his to-do list.

But virtually no gun-related legislation will make it out of committee in the Republican-controlled Senate. The sole measure that stands a chance would beef up funding for research into the causes of gun violence. 

This is where we should note that Senate President Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has taken more than $1 million from the National Rifle Association.

Economic justice

Over the longer term, the solution to gun violence in Chicago and every big city is rooted in greater economic justice.

Instead of creating a police state of the kind Trump so seems to admire, with armed federal agents on every corner, the federal government could do so much more to improve schools, drug rehab and mental health programs, job training and other basic social programs.

This year’s Pentagon budget is $721.5 billion. Just four percent of that would be $28.8 billion. Imagine how many more teachers, mental health counselors, after-school youth programs, police community outreach workers and summer jobs programs our nation could hire and create with that kind of money.

But we suppose Trump would accuse us of trying to “defund” the Pentagon.

Background checks bill

In Illinois, the state Legislature should enact the Block Illegal Gun Ownership bill, which would expand background checks to include all gun sales, helping to keep guns out of the wrong hands. The legislation might come up in the six-day November veto session, but it could be crowded out by emergency COVID-19 measures, said state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, who is sponsoring it in the Senate.

As for Chicago, the city should continue to work to improve the fractured relations between police and communities. It didn’t help that on Sunday FOP President John Catanzara outrageously asked Trump to help control the “chaos.”

Good police work — not a police state — is essential to bringing down crime rates. But we also have the means as a city and a nation to do so much more.

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