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Hey, Donald: Stop Trying to Use Chicago’s Violence to Score Political Points

Immigration protesters perform an “exorcism” of a Donald Trump dummy outside Trump Tower this spring.   Photo: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune

Donald Trump is really concerned about Chicago’s violence.

Or at least that’s what you might think if you’ve been watching the campaign trail.

In his speech accepting the Republican nomination for president last night, at a convention in which he declared himself to be the “law and order” candidate, Trump brought up (not for the first time) Chicago’s shooting and homicide rates: “In the President’s hometown of Chicago, more than 2,000 have been the victims of shootings this year alone. And almost 4,000 have been killed in the Chicago area since he took office.”

Those numbers aren’t wrong—in fact, they’re a little low, as DNAinfo found while fact-checking last night—but they also aren’t anything but that: numbers.

Trump’s speech in Cleveland seems to imply that just because he knows the numbers, that he’s capable of doing something about it.

So how would a President Trump protect the children of Chicago from the scourge of gun violence? Though the real estate magnate and celebrity TV star has brought up Chicago plenty of times, he hasn’t offered many concrete solutions.

One thing he says he certainly won’t do is enact any gun control laws. It’s a common misconception that Chicago has the country’s strictest gun laws, and conservative politicians have often tried to argue that Chicago’s shooting numbers show that gun restrictions don’t work. This is problematic for many reasons, not least because Chicago’s gun laws actually aren’t that strict compared to places with lower shooting rates (like New York, for example). Crime researchers argue that the ease of acquiring guns directly outside Chicago and the high levels of gang activity make the city a poor test case for gun laws.

Not only that, but law enforcement officials in Chicago have long said that stricter gun laws and gun confiscation are essential to bringing crime down. How’s that for your “law and order” candidate?

Speaking of police, Trump has stated on several occasions that he supports stop and frisk, a technique that has not had a discernible effect on crime in Chicago and has been labeled problematic due to widespread civil rights violations. WBEZ did an extensive analysis this year that showed that while the number of "contact cards” (the records kept when someone is stopped by police) went up, gun confiscation was down, fewer murders were solved, and gun violence held steady.

It’s no secret that aggressive policing has led to tensions between officers and the community of late. In a lengthy report issued this spring, Chicago’s Police Accountability Task Force declared the city needs to take major steps to repair trust. The Trace reported just this morning how distrust for the police can amplify community violence:

Academics talk about African Americans’ loss of trust in law enforcement in terms of “police legitimacy,” a concept that describes a community’s faith in the police to keep it safe. “Where police legitimacy goes down, crime goes up. It’s also true that where legitimacy goes up, crime goes down,” says Amy Crawford, deputy director of the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Trump is now officially the Republican nominee, which means he should be held to a very high standard when he talks about our nation’s problems and his proposed solutions. Rather than using Chicago’s violence numbers as a scare tactic to bludgeon his way toward the presidency, he might consider offering some concrete solutions for a city that makes him so “sad!”

(Side note: My colleague Whet Moser previously wrote about evidence-based solutions that have already proven effective in stemming violence in Chicago.)

But Trump’s not the only one to employ this tactic. “How sad!” is the common underlying theme when politicians and regular citizens alike rattle off Chicago’s shooting and homicide numbers, as if simply acknowledging their rise (which, by the way, is not unique to Chicago) is enough.

The reality is, human beings are dying in this city every day, and the reasons are endlessly complicated. Simply pointing at parts of the city and calling them violent does nothing but isolate and denigrate them, and justify over-policing them and building walls—physical or metaphorical—to keep them out of our own backyards.

It’s easy to criticize Trump’s lack of substance, or his lazy appropriation of one of Chicago’s most painful problems. But as we consider what led the country to a point where he could be a major party’s nominee, it’s important to look at how what he says is echoed in our own words and actions.


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