One hundred and two days after his inauguration, President Donald Trump has yet to clarify the meaning of “very quickly.” The Trump Administration has made no plans to uphold his campaign promise to end violence in the streets, though he continues to aim criticism at Chicago’s crime rate.
“The chaos and violence on our streets, and the assaults on law enforcement, are an attack against all peaceful citizens,” Trump said at a campaign rally Aug. 18, 2016, in Charlotte, North Carolina. “If I am elected president, this chaos and violence will end, and it will end very quickly.”
In an attempt to keep this promise, Trump signed an executive order Feb. 9, enacting “the enforcement of all federal laws in order to enhance the protection and safety of federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement officers and thereby all Americans.”
According to the order, the U.S. attorney general’s office and the Department of Justice must develop a strategy to use existing laws to prosecute individuals who commit or attempt to commit crimes of violence against law enforcement officers.
However, in several incidences, Trump has spoken out about violence in Chicago directly, including a roundtable discussion with the National Sheriffs’ Association and a speech at the Major Cities Chiefs Association winter conference.
“If you ran Chicago, you would solve that nightmare, I tell you,” Trump said Feb. 7, to the National Sheriffs’ Association. “It’s worse than some of the places that we read about in the Middle East, where you have wars going on. It’s so sad. Chicago has become so sad a situation.”
Ten days after his campaign promise in Charlotte, Trump made an appearance on Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s “The O’Reilly Factor,” wherein a discussion of violence in Chicago took precedent.
“I know police in Chicago,” Trump said. “If they were given the authority to do it, they would get it done.”
When O’Reilly pressed for a more specific plan, Trump said the city needs tougher leadership.
“By being very much tougher than they are right now. They right now are not tough,” Trump said. “When I was in Chicago, I got to meet a couple of very tough police. I said, ‘How do you stop this? How do you stop this? If you were put in charge,’ – to a specific person – ‘do you think you could stop this?’ He said, ‘Mr. Trump I would be able to stop it in one week,’ and I believed him 100 percent.”
Megan Anderson, a student at Benedictine University in the suburbs of Chicago, said she also does not think the Chicago Police Department has been of the highest quality for some years now.
“Because of this, I think crime began to rise, and that is not necessarily the current officers’ faults,” Anderson said. “They were put into a broken system and have been left with the aftermath of it.”
In Trump’s meeting with the National Sheriffs’ Association, Sheriff Dave Mahoney of Dane County, Wisconsin, just a few hours north of Chicago, agreed the city needs help, but he was more specific.
“We need help from DEA, FBI and our task forces,” Mahoney said. “We need them to be adequately funded and led by leaders who want to work collectively with our nation’s sheriffs.”
This request aligns with what Trump tweeted throughout January, but no such plans have been proposed.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2017
According the Chicago Police Department, the rate of overall crime was trending downward between 2011 and 2015, and 2015 saw the fewest violent crime incidents since the 1960s. Reports for 2016 and 2017 have not yet been released.
Chicago officials and lawmakers have responded to Trump by asking him to work toward solutions.
“Instead of focusing so much energy on rhetoric about Chicago, the people of this city would be better off if the president would finally partner with us to improve public safety for Chicago,” Matt McGrath, a spokesman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said in a statement to the Chicago Tribune.
According to a press release from the office of U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush, D-Illinois, moments before Trump’s first address to the Congress began on Feb. 28, Rush invited the president to Chicago, which Trump accepted despite his previous criticisms.
“I invited him to Chicago so he can talk to leaders, citizens and people who are working to reduce violence — but also to understand the other side of this story, and that’s poverty, joblessness and a lack of access to mental health and social services,” Rush said.
In the speech, Trump named Chicago as an example of violence intersecting with poverty, saying “More than 4,000 people were shot last year alone, and the murder rate so far this year has been even higher.”
Rush said Trump’s claim was inaccurate and the speech was nothing more than “campaign promises on steroids.”
“Even if one person in our city is the victim of this reckless gun violence we need solutions, not more propaganda,” Rush said in the press release. “He’s good at telling us the what but never the how. He talked about violence but never talked about the easy access to guns. He talked about the killings but didn’t mention straw purchases.”
In the address to Congress, Trump also said the cycle of poverty will be broken by breaking the cycle of violence.
However, according to several sociological studies including Kirk R. Williams’ “Economic Sources of Homicide: Reestimating the Effects of Poverty and Inequality,” poverty is a major cause of violence – the opposite of Trump’s claim.
Brianna Willis, Murray State alumna and resident of Memphis, Tennessee, the state’s second-largest metropolis, said the crime rate in cities always seems alarming, but solutions are not found in a strengthened police force.
“Education is the key. Memphis has a real education problem,” Willis said. “And by that I mean, politicians make decisions that aren’t in the best interest of students. Schools get closed, the city is in debt and teachers keep leaving. A lack of investment in the teenage population and education here, I think, directly contributes to poverty and violence.”
Emily Cook, who lives an hour outside Chicago, also said the first step in combatting violent crime in the city is improving access to high-quality education.
“Teacher salaries at schools in low income neighborhoods in Chicago need to be increased,” Cook said. “This will help attract and retain high quality teachers and pay for educational materials like books and science equipment. In addition, school buildings need to be maintained in order to create a functional learning environment, which is incredibly important for maximum student learning.”
Originally published to JMC597.mymurraystate.com on May 2, 2017