Patterson: A call for NU students to reject Trump’s rhetoric demonizing Chicago

Sky Patterson, Op-Ed Contributor

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“Look at what’s going on in Chicago. It’s horrible.”

This statement, made in an interview with Bill O’Reilly, was not Donald J. Trump’s only instance of oversimplifying and demonizing the city miles from Northwestern’s campus. Throughout the current presidential election, Trump has used Chicago as a trope for black violence and lack of social efficacy. During a debate, the Republican nominee described blacks and Latinxs in Chicago as “living in hell because it’s so dangerous.”  He described Chicago as a place where it’s impossible to walk down the street without getting shot. To fix this problem, Trump has argued for “law and order,” asserting that police need to be “much tougher than they are right now” in order to alleviate violence. Trump has used Chicago as a scapegoat for the continued stigmatization of communities of color as more violent than white communities.

Trump even used Chicago to claim that we need to utilize stop-and-frisk policies, despite the fact that it is ineffective, applied in a discriminatory manner and unconstitutional. What Trump has proposed has been tried before –– and has miserably failed. But it’s not as if he hasn’t been around for the last 50 years. Trump suffers from historical amnesia. This law-and-order rhetoric has only exploited people’s fears, and the corresponding policies have caused a human rights crisis, leaving low-income black and Latinx residents with unequal access to healthcare, education and jobs.

The U.S. has the world’s highest incarceration rate. Tough-on-crime policies, racist police tactics and harsh sentencing have contributed to this criminal justice crisis. Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon gave us the genesis of racially coded law-and-order rhetoric. And yet the policies that evolved from this rhetoric have failed miserably at everything besides creating broken communities, broken families and dire racial and economic inequality. Politicians utilized fear to demonize and incarcerate entire communities — primarily low-income minority ones. The racist War on Drugs and mass incarceration have failed. Yet, we heard the language that fueled them from Trump throughout his presidential campaign.

Mass incarceration has not helped solve issues of crime or violence; if anything, it has exacerbated violence and inequality. Additionally, studies show that tough-on-crime policies disproportionately punish black and brown people because both jurors and police officers are likely to be more harsh when a suspect has darker skin.

Trump’s intense focus on violence in Chicago is illogical ––  the city does not even make the top 10 on the FBI’s (2015) “Most Dangerous U.S. Cities” list. Chicago doesn’t even make the top 43 on the FBI’s Most Violent Cities (measuring violent crime rates) list, but Rockford, Illinois is number five. This is not to say that Chicago does not have serious work to do when it comes to public safety and gun violence. Too many people have lost their lives. But by focusing on law and order, Trump obfuscates the deeper causes of violence. Although Trump blames violence in Chicago and other cities on the need for more policing and social control, serious critical thinkers will realize that violence is the logical result of failed social policy and systematic racism. The violence many cities suffer from is proportional to the amount of oppression suffocating them. Social activist and scholar Cornel West argues that poverty and social policies that facilitate poverty are among the most extreme kinds of violence.

Trump’s “tough on crime” rhetoric and policies would not diminish violence. Improving education, improving health care and reducing poverty and inequality would help reduce violence. But instead of offering concrete and comprehensible policy suggestions, Trump reverts back to 20th century law-and-order politics; he uses fear mongering, and supports over-policing communities that have already been devastated by mass incarceration. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now.

Chicago should not be reduced to its crime rate or its numbers of shootings. Trump’s comments dehumanized blacks and Latinxs and contributed to the continued marginalization of the South and West sides. Residents affected by violence in Chicago work continuously to reduce violence in their communities, which Trump neglects to mention.

Trump overlooks the vibrancy and talent that remain alive in Chicago. As NU students, we should challenge major politicians’ oversimplification of Chicago as the epitome of black violence. We must interact with the city beyond using the Northside as a playground for bars and brunch so that politicians like Trump cannot easily prevent us from developing a nuanced view of Chicago’s social issues.

Sky Patterson is a SESP sophomore. She can be contacted at If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.