Chicagoans See Fed Role In Fighting Crime Wave — But Not On Streets

Jan 25, 2017

There's no question the tragic and intransigent problem of gun violence weighs heavily on Chicago residents, but for some there's resignation as well.

"This is nothing new in Chicago," says Keith Muhammed, while waiting at a bus stop on Chicago's west side.

He's right, but it has been getting worse: More than 760 people were murdered in Chicago in 2016, the highest total in nearly two decades, and this year is shaping up as more of the same.

According to a running tally by the Chicago Tribune, at least 252 people had been shot in 2017 as of Wednesday night, or 10 a day, and 45 people have been killed.

The violent crime problem is especially bad especially in the West Garfield Park neighborhood, where the 45-year-old Muhammed lives.

Even so, Muhammed is skeptical of President Trump's tweet Tuesday night that he would "send in the Feds," if the city "doesn't fix the horrible carnage."

"That's not gonna stop it," he says. The president "needs to address the underlying issues. The feds or the police has nothing to do [with] why people are killing."

Muhammed and others say there's a sense of hopelessness among many in communities such as this, which leads young people in particular to engage in violence. The causes are complex, but stem from decades of poverty, entrenched gangs, easy access to guns and a lack of economic opportunity.

So if Trump is talking about more federal resources for education, training and creating jobs, Muhammed would welcome it — and so would 46-year-old Willie Turner, who is unemployed.

"See, if it was more jobs out there, it'd probably less crime rate out here," says Turner, while waiting for a bus to take him to job interviews downtown.

At Chicago's City Hall, reaction to the President's tweet is somewhat cautious.

"I think we welcome help, but it can't be done in the form of a shallow tweet," says Alderman Scott Waguespack, in the anteroom of the chambers during Wednesday's City Council meeting. "If he wanted to come here and sit down with people and talk through what the needs are ... they've sent help before in the form of ATF agents, and I think that's appropriate."

Federal law enforcement officers already help fight violence in Chicago, with the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. attorney's office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, combating gun and drug trafficking and other crimes.

Waguespack and other city officials say they'd welcome additional agents and prosecutors in those offices, if that's what President Trump is suggesting in his tweet.

Alderman Anthony Beale represents some of the high-crime areas on the south side that the president tweeted about.

"Is this politics? Is he posturing? Absolutely," Beale told reporters Wednesday. "But if he's going to posture to help reduce the crime in my community, let him posture. Bring the resources in to help save our children that are being killed every single day."

Some have interpreted Trump's tweet to mean that he is suggesting federal troops or the National Guard are needed to help patrol the city's streets, as others have proposed in the past.

Beale agrees something needs to be done to restore peace to the most violent neighborhoods.

"Right now, we need to lock those communities down to figure out what needs to be done, and then start addressing education and the job issues that are really hurting these communities."

Others bristle at the suggested intervention.

"The threat to militarize our communities will be met with the same spirit of fierce resistance as efforts to increase 'stop-and-frisk,' register and ban Muslims, and deport millions of immigrants," says alderman Roderick Sawyer, chair of the city council's black caucus.

"What Chicago needs is serious federal investment in education, job training and an infrastructure bill with rules to require diversity in hiring," Sawyer adds. "We must view violence as a direct result of poverty and disinvestment from our communities."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel agrees the city could use more federal funding to fight violent crime and to hire more police officers, but also rejects the inference that the city needs the National Guard to help patrol Chicago streets.

"I'm against it, straight up," he said during a news conference after Wednesday's city council meeting.

Emanuel says federal troops would undermine the city's efforts to restore the sorely lacking trust needed between Chicago police and city residents.

"It's antithetical to what the spirit of community policing is," he says.

Though the president and Illinois' governor have the authority to mobilize the national guard, federal law prohibits the deployment of federal troops for civil law enforcement.

And sending in soldiers to fight gun violence in Chicago does not appear to be what President Trump is suggesting. White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters today that the president simply wants to start a dialogue with Mayor Emanuel, "so that we can come up with a plan to keep the people of Chicago safe."

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Last night, President Trump tweeted about Chicago gun violence, saying he'll send in the feds if the city doesn't fix the horrible carnage going on. Two-hundred-forty-seven people have reportedly been shot since the first of the year, 44 of them fatally. And that's a jump from last year's numbers. NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: There's no question the tragic and intransient problem of gun violence weighs heavily on Chicago residents.

KEITH MUHAMMED: This is nothing new in Chicago.

SCHAPER: But it is worse than it's been in nearly two decades, especially here in the West Garfield Park neighborhood where 45-year-old Keith Muhammed lives. However, when President Trump tweets that he'll send in the feds, Muhammed is skeptical.

MUHAMMED: That's not going to stop it.

SCHAPER: Why not?

MUHAMMED: Because he needs to address the underlying issue. The feds or the police has nothing to do why people are killing.

SCHAPER: Muhammed and others say there's a sense of hopelessness among many in communities such as this that leads young people in particular to engage in violence. Its cause stems from decades of poverty, entrenched gangs, easy access to guns and a lack of economic opportunity.

So if Trump is talking about more federal resources for education, job training and economic development, Muhammed would welcome it. And so too would 46-year-old Willie Turner.

WILLIE TURNER: See; if there was more jobs out there, there'd probably be less crime rate out here.

SCHAPER: At Chicago's city hall, reaction to the president's tweet is somewhat cautious.

SCOTT WAGUESPACK: Well, I think we welcome help, but it can't be done in the form of a shallow tweet.

SCHAPER: Alderman Scott Waguespack...

WAGUESPACK: You know, if he wanted to come here and sit down with people and talk through what the needs are - they've sent help before in the form of ATF agents, and I think that's appropriate.

SCHAPER: The feds already help fight violence in Chicago with the ATF, the FBI, the DEA and the U.S. Attorney's Office combating gun and drug trafficking among other crimes. Waguespack and other city officials say they welcome additional agents and prosecutors in those offices if that's what President Trump is suggesting in his tweet. Here's another Alderman, Anthony Beale.

ANTHONY BEALE: Is he posturing - absolutely. But if he's going to posture to help reduce the crime in my community, let him posture. Bring the resources in to help save our children that are being killed every single day.

SCHAPER: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel agrees. The city could use more federal resources to fight violent crime and to hire more police officers. But Emanuel rejects the inference that the city needs the National Guard to help patrol Chicago's streets.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAHM EMANUEL: I'm against it, straight up.

SCHAPER: Emanuel says federal troops would undermine the city's efforts to restore the sorely lacking trust that is needed between Chicago police and many city residents.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EMANUEL: It's antithetical to the spirit of what community policing is.

SCHAPER: And that does not appear to be what President Trump is suggesting. White House spokesman Sean Spicer says the president simply wants to start a dialogue with Mayor Emanuel. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.