On Wednesday, the president of the United States threatened Chicago with federal intervention if it fails to bring down its homicide numbers. Mangling recent homicide statistics, President Trump said he would “send in the Feds” if Chicago did not “fix the horrible ‘carnage’ going on.”
Later, in an interview with ABC News’s David Muir, Trump elaborated on his threat. The nature of Trump’s contemplated intervention remains unclear, but the president offered a hypothesis for why Chicago is facing so much deadly violence.
“Now if they want help, I would love to help them. I will send in what we have to send in. Maybe they're not gonna have to be so politically correct,” Trump told Muir. “Maybe they're being overly political correct. Maybe there's something going on. But you can't have those killings going on in Chicago. Chicago is like a war zone.”
Chicago’s homicide rate is higher than that of other major cities at a time of relatively low rates of violent crime across the country, although it is not as high as it has been in the past. Trump is certainly not the first to compare Chicago to a “war zone,” but it’s an inapt metaphor––wars are won by overcoming the enemy through brutal and overwhelming force. Comparing Chicago to a “war zone” turns police into soldiers and its own residents into the enemy.
Trump’s diagnosis, that the city’s crime rate is the result of “political correctness,” is equally revealing. Trump often invokes the term when he believes problems could be solved if only those in charge were willing to apply sufficient violence and brutality as a solution. Trump invokes “political correctness” when discussing immigration, crime, the torture of terrorism suspects, or banning Muslims from entering the country.
This is a consistent feature of an authoritarian mindset: The belief that there is no problem that cannot be solved by greater force or violence.
The feds have already been to Chicago however, and what they found was not an excess of political correctness. On the contrary, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division found that Chicago police frequently racially profiled residents (even sometimes off-duty black cops), expressed bigoted views (including on social media), and used excessive force with little or no accountability. The report was sparked in part by video evidence of the police killing of Laquan McDonald, which the city attempted to hide and when released flatly contradicted the statements of police officers that McDonald was shot because he posed a threat.
“CPD also has failed to hold officers accountable when they use force contrary to CPD policy or otherwise commit misconduct,” the report reads. “This failure to hold officers accountable results in some officers remaining with the Department when they should have been relieved of duty.” This may be among the last comprehensive investigations of police abuse for some time––Trump’s attorney general nominee, Jeff Sessions, has vowed to end them because they hurt police morale.
According to the report, the pattern of the excessive use of force in violation of the constitutional rights of Chicago residents included shooting fleeing, unarmed suspects in the back, “many circumstances in which officers’ accounts of force incidents were later discredited, in whole or part, by video evidence,” and even incidents where excessive force was used against children, including a teenage girl beaten with a baton for having a cell phone in school.
Allowing police to, in some cases, literally get away with murder hasn’t improved matters in Chicago. Instead, it has produced a community that fears and distrusts the police too much to help them prevent or solve crimes. It’s not just that the homicide rate has skyrocketed, it’s that the homicide clearance rate has plummeted. Would you feel comfortable talking to police if as described in the report, they were known to do things like point guns at children riding their bikes and then handcuff them face down on the ground because neighbors said they were playing on your property?
Though New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was criticized by tough on crime ideologues for his decision in 2013 not to appeal a judge’s ruling that found the city’s stop and frisk program to be unconstitutional, New York City’s crime rate remains historically low.
Between New York and Chicago, it is the city that embraced what critics pilloried as “politically correct” policing that has grown safer. The reasons for that divide remain unclear, but at the very least, it suggests there is no simple solution to the problems facing Chicago.
As for Trump’s proposal, we already know what the results of a Chicago police department with no oversight, accountability, or in his words, “political correctness” would look like. It looks like “carnage.”