Throughout his presidency, White House occupant Donald Trump has had an obsession with Chicago.
Trump frequently pointed to Chicago’s crime rates throughout his presidency, but declined to make a presidential visit to the Windy City until 2019, when he met with Chicago police and railed against then-Superintendent Eddie Johnson (who skipped the meeting). Trump called the city’s crime rate “embarrassing to us as a nation.”
“All over the world, they’re talking about Chicago,” Trump said.
On Wednesday, facing flagging poll numbers, Trump has returned to the tough law-and-order rhetoric that helped propel his 2016 candidacy with a plan to announce a new federal anti-crime initiative. According to The Washington Post, the president will deploy federal agents to Chicago to help assist with the city’s law enforcement efforts.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot had strong words for the president at a Tuesday news conference; “We welcome actual partnership, but we do not welcome dictatorship,” the Democrat mayor said. “We do not welcome authoritarianism, and we do not welcome the unconstitutional arrests and detainments of our residents, and that is something I will not tolerate.”
But she also sent a letter to Trump on Monday saying the city would welcome federal support in specific areas, The Post writes, including drug enforcement and pursuing illegal firearm traffickers.
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There’s still much not known about the size and scale of the federal intervention, though the city said the agents would work under the direction of the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John Lausch. But local officials expressed major concerns that federal law enforcement would follow the example set in Portland, Ore., where state violence against protesters has escalated since federal agents were dispatched to the city earlier this month.
Chicago Alderman Matt Martin said he couldn’t discount the possibility that Trump would send in the National Guard to subdue the city.
“We’ve got to step back and be really honest and candid about the moment we are in,” Martin told the Post. “This is a president who doesn’t outreach his arms. This is pure political gamesmanship, whether he sends in troops or not; you can’t lose sight of the fact that whatever he does will be driven primarily by what he thinks the political benefits will be and not what is best for the city of Chicago.”
Activists, who have been keeping an eye on the way federal agents in Portland have swept suspected protesters off the streets, are particularly concerned that federal agents would try to replicate that crackdown in Chicago, especially as Black Lives Matter demonstrations show no sign of stopping in the coming weeks.
Trump, meanwhile, has been ramping up his rhetoric on federal interventions ever since the nationwide uprisings, which broke out across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police in May. The mass demonstrations have successfully foregrounded concerns about systemic racism in all aspects of American life—from jails and hospitals to schools and workplaces.
But while Confederate statues were being toppled, Trump was talking about crime.
In a speech about police reform given in June, Trump specifically pointed to Chicago and Baltimore, both cities known for their relatively high Black populations.
“47% of all murders in Chicago and 68% of all murders in Baltimore went without arrests last year. Americans want law and order. They demand law and order,” Trump said, according to NBC Chicago.
There is a clear political motivation for fixating on cities like Baltimore and Chicago, community organizer and Chicago native Charlene Carruthers told The Root in 2018.
“It tells a story that black people are pathological, that we don’t make moral decisions and that we don’t actually have community values,” Carruthers said. “So it allows [people in power] to displace people from our communities and it allows them to continue to divest from our communities.”