Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday accused President Donald Trump of trying to “foment violence” and offered a vulgar response — in code — after he threatened Minneapolis rioters protesting the death of George Floyd at the hands of police.
“We see the game he’s playing because it’s so transparent and he’s not very good at it. He wants to show failures on the part of Democratic local leaders to throw red meat to his base. His goal is to polarize, to destabilize local government and inflame racist urges. And we can absolutely not let him prevail,” Lightfoot said.
“I will code what I really want to say to Donald Trump. It’s two words: It begins with F and ends with YOU.”
On Thursday night, President Trump took to Twitter as protesters surrounded a Minneapolis police station and set fire to it.
He characterized the protesters as “THUGS” and tweeted, “Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
On Friday, Lightfoot accused the president with whom she has clashed repeatedly of attempting to “foment violence.” She made no apologies for the vulgar reference that ran contrary to the advice of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s infamous line that, “When they go low, we go high.”
“I am not Michelle Obama,” the mayor said.
“I will not remain silent while this man cynically tries to turn this incredibly painful moment into one for his own political gain.”
Trump has a long memory and a short fuse. He has been known to get even.
Lightfoot was asked whether she’s concerned that her vulgar reference to the president —even in code — could cost Chicago at a time when the city desperately needs as much federal help as it can get to fill the $500 million shortfall tied to the stay-at-home shutdown triggered by the coronavirus.
“What I’m concerned about is the president of the United States using his bully pulpit to foment violence. That’s what I’m concerned about. There’s no other way that you can read that tweet than fomenting, encouraging violence against residents in a city or in cities across the country who are expressing themselves and exercising their First Amendment rights,” the mayor said.
“Nobody is gonna sit and condone looting and violence. But to blanketly say as the president of the United States that you’re encouraging people to be shot in the street? That’s what I’m concerned about and, frankly, everyone should be concerned about that. That’s not leadership. That’s cowardice. That’s playing to a base with the biggest dog whistle possible.”
Trump’s tweet was reminiscent of former Mayor Richard J. Daley’s “shoot-to-kill or maim” order to Chicago Police during the riots that followed the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
But Lightfoot made no mention of that order that Daley subsequently denied.
Instead, she accused Trump of “channeling a former sheriff in Florida at another time when he was literally saying he was gonna shoot people on sight” and said she had no choice but to respond.
“We have to step up. My obligation as a leader is not to be silent in the face of that. I’m very deliberate in the times that I speak in reaction to what the president says . . . I don’t take the bait every time. But this time, when we are suffering in pain and trauma at the killing of a black man in the street — the fact that he would use this opportunity to try, for political gain, to blow the dog whistle to his base” demanded a response, the mayor said.
“I’m a black woman and I’m a leader. And I feel an obligation to speak out when something as offensive as that is said by anyone. But particularly the president. And I make no apologies whatsoever for my word choice and the way in which I’m calling him out for what he said. It was wrong. It was offensive and he should retract it and apologize.”
Lightfoot acknowledged that a major protest is planned for Chicago on Saturday. She and Police Supt. David Brown are working with protest, community and religious leaders to “keep the channels of communication flowing.”