Known to have active Twitter fingers, President Donald Trump went on the social media platform to utter some controversial words about Chicago and the shooting violence happening in the city.
Trump tweeted: If Chicago doesn’t fix the horrible “carnage” going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24 percent from 2016), I will send in the Feds!
Murders and shootings in Chicago (mostly concentrated on the city’s south and west sides) hit a record number in 2016. But this tweet also comes after the U.S. Justice Department released findings of systemic racial bias, inadequate training, misconduct, and patterns of excessive force. Many Chicago city officials have responded to the tweets. Though Mayor Rahm Emanuel has not addressed this tweet specifically, he has said in the past he would like the Chicago Police Department and the federal government to be “partners.”
Black voters across the country voted almost unanimously against Donald Trump in the presidential election. Among several reasons, one was his dystopian view of the inner city. In regards to the Republican Party in general, African-Americans feel that the GOP is at least apathetic, at most combative towards Black people’s call to weed out the anti-Blackness saturated within the U.S criminal justice system. So at least for Black folk, Trump tweeting things like this don’t change their already dismal view of him.
But many of us in Chicago are hopeful for some positive change. In December, Kim Foxx was sworn in as the Cook County, Illinois State’s Attorney, the first African-American to hold the position. She took the seat from Anita Alvarez, after a torrent of public outrage due to Alvarez’s handling of the Laquan McDonald case.
Foxx is seen as someone who is “of the people”––an accomplished trial lawyer and assistant state’s attorney who grew up in Cabrini Green public housing, she is a member of Delta Sigma Theta, one of the four historically African-American sororities. Foxx has promised major transformations to criminal justice in Cook County, including increased transparency, better data-collection, and tackling criminal justice disparities produced by racial and economic bias (particularly in the areas of juvenile justice and non-violent offenses).
But Foxx’s most difficult task will be mending the strained relationship between police and the communities they serve. Black and brown Chicagoans feel stuck between a rock and a hard place––wanting safer communities, but also sure that increased police presence won’t deliver safety and justice to neighborhoods (for example, the Chicago Police Department cleared only 29 percent of all homicides, which is less than half of the national clearance rate), as much as jobs, education, and access to affordable healthcare will.
For mainstream Americans, police officers are valiant public servants who protect and serve. For those who live in major cities, it isn’t that easy.
Where I’m from on the South Side of Chicago, a great amount of folks equate more police to more surveillance, direct or indirect harassment, tickets, and tension. Men, women, and children are getting shot in gang and interpersonal violence at the same time officers shoot and kill suspects like Laquan McDonald or bystanders like Rekia Boyd. Reading tweets like this from “The Law and Order President” heightens, not assuages, their concerns.
My own experiences with the police have been ambivalent. A member of my family served in the CPD for decades, and one of my high school basketball coaches is one. I have had positive interactions with the police, but frankly, these moments fall considerably short of the negative and problematic ones.
When I was younger, police told my brother and his friends “to go back to your side of the tracks.” My mother implemented a curfew for when my friends and I could play basketball in our driveway, because neighbors had called the police on us so many times. Walking our Rottweiler, we were stopped by an officer who wanted to make sure the dog had his shots and felt that the leash was too long. As the officer drove away, a White women with a Great Dane off the leash walked by. At the University of Virginia, I’ve seen intoxicated White students yell “Fuck the Pigs” at officers, make “threatening gestures” towards them, and not get arrested, while a student like Martese Johnson is thrown to the ground and bloodied in an interaction with ABC.
Walking back to a friend’s apartment, the police stopped our group (three Black males, one White one) to make sure “we weren’t messing with him” (the White male). When my friend asked the officer what she meant, she replied, “Don’t be a smart ass.” And while putting promotional flyers for a party on the windshield of cars, an officer (who said there had been “reports of people breaking into cars”) pulled his gun on my frat brother and I (directly at my head, to be more accurate). When we showed him the flyers, his reply was “Oh,” and he walked away like nothing happened.
I grew up in environment that viewed routine traffic stops, not as a trade between respect and professionalism, but one where I could die if I said the wrong thing or made the wrong move. But I’d imagine many of Trump’s supporters see his proclamation of inner cities being “hell” and in need of law and order as him being a concerned leader who “tells it like it is.”But others take these words merely as a dog-whistling to supporters and the GOP. The Trump administration is inline with the “pro-police” agenda and continues to propagate the “War On Police” rhetoric that isn’t based in facts that could produce a sound correlation. Former Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy blamed Black Lives Matter for the surge in crime and a “state of lawlessness.”
The new administration has replaced topics on the White House website such as “Civil Rights” with “Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community”––stating that, “President Trump will honor our men and women in uniform and will support their mission of protecting the public. The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong. The Trump Administration will end it”.
And with Jeff Sessions (who is surrounded in racial controversy and against consent decrees) as Trump’s Attorney General pick, activist communities both local and national feel police departments across America are about to receive a blank check and little oversight, and police data and transparency will dramatically weaken. Black and brown communities across the country are rejecting “bad apple” logic, and asking, “What about the apple tree?”
For people in the Black and brown communities of Chicago and other major cities, “sending in the Feds” means stifling dissent, more people in jail for non-violent crimes, an unchanged social and economic status, and more Rekia Boyds and Laquan McDonalds.
Joshua Adams is a writer and arts & culture journalist from Chicago. He holds a B.A. in African-American Studies from the University of Virginia and a M.A. in Journalism from the University of Southern California. His writings often explain current and historical cultural phenomena through personal narratives.