As marriages of convenience go, Chicago’s crime-fighting partnership with the Trump administration looks awkward at best, strikingly in need of a pastor or perhaps a referee.
Attorney General William Barr was in town Wednesday to update the city on “Operation Legend,” a Department of Justice effort to help curb a horrendous surge in violent crime across the country.
Yet, conspicuously absent from Barr’s news conference Wednesday was the city’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, and top Chicago police officials. Asked about the absences, Barr shrugged and noted they “were certainly invited and could have attended.”
“But,” he also added, it was “one of the odd things about our program in this city, some of the politics involved -- I’m sure that was an element of it.”
And when Lightfoot was asked at a later news conference about the absence, she pointed out that, yes, indeed, there was a political motive to her absence.
“It was politics that made us decide not to be there,” she said. “We are never going to be used as a prop. Never.
“Not in this climate — particularly, unfortunately, not in a way that the Department of Justice, under Attorney General Barr has been used, in effect, as an adjunct of the Trump reelection campaign.”
The result was dueling news conferences as Barr and later Lightfoot announced dueling interpretations of who deserved credit for the modest but promising turnarounds that the city’s violent crime statistics took last month.
Barr credited Operation Legend. “Over the first five weeks of Operation Legend in Chicago, murders dropped by 50% over the previous five weeks,” Barr said. “August ultimately saw a 45% decrease in murders compared to July, and 35% compared to June.”
He also noted that the city’s statement on the crime drop credited changes in police strategies among other factors -- without mentioning the federal contribution. “So,” he added, “that’s just the way things roll in Chicago.”
But Lightfoot later argued that, “We started seeing a downward trend in shootings and homicides really beginning in late July. The first federal agents who came to Chicago as part of Operation Legend didn’t really get here until Aug. 3.”
Let’s hope that downward trend continues or both officials might be running away from the city’s crime stats as eagerly as they embrace them now.
The problem is indeed too serious to be impeded by politics, but on a more positive side, politics give government officials that much more of an incentive to do a job worth boasting about.
Chicago hasn’t had that luxury in a long time. Although the vast majority of violent crime occurs in a minority of neighborhoods, it makes the entire city feel less safe, especially when it spills over into luxury areas like the looting rampage that occurred on the Magnificent Mile shopping district downtown in early August.
Politics also stumble occasionally into some serious issues. The operation was named after 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro, who was shot and killed in Kansas City, Mo., in June.
Suddenly in a summer that also has seen more senseless killings of young children by gunfire than any other in memory, little LeGend became the tragic face of the nation’s larger tragedy.
Among the most recent in Chicago is Dajore Wilson, 8, killed by gunfire as she sat with her parents in a car in the Canaryville neighborhood Monday.
Amid such miserably bad news, I am encouraged when I see politics put aside to bring leaders together in a constructive way.
As wary as Lightfoot may be about Trump’s politics, she apparently gets along well with U.S. Attorney John Lausch, rooted in a friendship that began when they both served as federal prosecutors.
That’s promising. It’s easier for different levels of government to find solutions when they don’t have to worry so much about finding an advantage.
Tribune Content Agency