Bannister: Donald Trump uses Chicago as a symbol of lawlessness, but proposes no effective policies

Edmund Bannister, Columnist

On Tuesday, Donald Trump tweeted, in his typically aggressive yet vague style, about Chicago’s alarming homicide rate — and threatened to send in “the Feds” in order to stop the violence.

Trump vowed that, “If Chicago doesn’t fix the horrible ‘carnage’ going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24% from 2016), I will send in the Feds!”

To his credit, the recently inaugurated president got his statistics right. The Chicago homicide rate has risen since the end of 2016, a year in which murders rose to a 19-year high of 783. Trump is also right that this level of violence is unacceptable in an American city. People, especially those in underresourced neighborhoods where crime is highest, have the right to live without fear.

However, any common ground I have with Trump ends there. I suspect, as did many who read Trump’s tweet, that he has no practical plan for Chicago. Instead, the purpose of his statement is to inspire fear, especially among the white, non-urban voters who form his political base. I believe that President Trump intends, à la Richard Nixon, to turn minority communities into a symbol of lawlessness in the media, using it as yet another political weapon.

In his speech on the Capitol steps, Trump made a solemn vow that “this American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” His lament over the “carnage” in Chicago suggests Trump views Chicago and its “inner city” neighborhoods as the supreme example of what is wrong with America. The fact that Chicago and the state of Illinois have never, and will likely never, vote for him suggests that Chicago is playing the role of the foil, a convenient (liberal) villain for Trump to slay.

Trump’s swashbuckling statements ring hollow because he lacks any real plan for dealing with inner-city crime. In an exclusive interview on ABC, Trump said the problem in Chicago was “easily fixable” and that the real problem was “political correctness.” Instead of speaking about community policing, providing rehabilitation, statistically mapping crime, increasing communication between law enforcement agencies or lowering high school dropout rates, Trump went instinctively to race. His fondness for New York City’s now defunct stop-and-frisk program is well known, as is his predilection for racial profiling. Presumably, these are the types of programs that Chicago’s “political correctness” is preventing it from implementing.

Hopefully I am not the only one who thinks it ludicrous to accuse the Chicago Police Department of being too “politically correct,” when the agency was recently revealed by the Department of Justice for having routinely violated constitutional rights. Trump apparently believes that the problem in Chicago is that the police are not being forceful enough.

This belief, devoid of subtlety and policy knowledge, reveals the shallow nature of his concern for the city. His proposed solutions are the epitome of arrogance and demonstrate his utter disdain for the efforts of criminal justice experts and the people living in the communities he claims to help.

If Trump truly wants to help the people of Chicago tackle the problem of crime, he would do well to start by withdrawing Betsy DeVos as his nominee for education secretary. Any fool can see that gutting the federal budget for public education in favor of school vouchers is a poor strategy to lower crime rates on Chicago’s South Side.

It seems unlikely that Trump will change his pick for the Department of Education or that he will embrace a holistic approach to crime fighting. His concern for Chicago is as fleeting as his hairline — the people who live in and around this city would do well to remember that. As Sky Patterson wrote last quarter, residents of the wider Chicago area, including politically-inclined Northwestern students, should push back against Trump’s cynical effort to use Chicago and its minority citizens as a prop to trigger fear in the hearts of white suburbanites. Fear kills compassion and common sense. Fear reduces political analysis to the level of skin color. Fear divides us and renders us pawns in the games played by men like President Trump.

Edmund Bannister is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.