CHICAGO — President Donald Trump said Wednesday he’ll send a “surge” of officers to Chicago and other cities to cut back on violent crime.
Officials in Chicago and Illinois have said they’re concerned about the move, especially given the shadowy way the Department of Homeland Security has operated in Portland, Oregon, with agents driving in unmarked cars and grabbing protesters off the streets to detain them without explanation and due process.
But federal officials said the help coming to Chicago won’t look like what’s happened in Portland.
The Department of Justice will send “hundreds” of officers from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, Homeland Security, U.S. Marshals Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to bureaus in Chicago “to help drive down violent crime,” Trump said.
Attorney General William Barr echoed the president’s statements, saying the agents coming to Chicago will join already-existing task forces and will work with local police to solve murders and “take down violent gangs.”
Still, Mayor Lori Lightfoot urged Chicagoans to keep an eye out for anything that seems amiss as more federal agents come to the city. If people see something, they should call 911 or 311, she said.
“We don’t need federal troops,” Lightfoot said after Trump’s announcement. “We don’t need unnamed, secret federal agents roaming around the streets of Chicago, taking residents without cause and violating their basic constitutional rights.”
The project has been dubbed Operation Legend. It’s already started in Kansas City, but it’s not clear what the impact has been: Barr claimed officials made 200 arrests within two weeks, but that’s already been shown as untrue.
Agents will next be sent to Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“Perhaps no citizens have suffered more from the menace of violent crime than the wonderful people of Chicago,” Trump said.
The mayor slammed Trump for his comments critical of Chicago, saying his announcement was nothing more than a “political stunt” as he’s tried to demonize mayors and cities without doing anything to help them with gun violence or the coronavirus pandemic.
“The president is trying to divert attention from his failed leadership on COVID-19,” Lightfoot said. “Why are we engaged in such violence? Because there are too many damn guns on our streets. And why is that so? Because the Republican leadership for way too long, including this president, refuses to even have a conversation about commonsense gun reform. …
“If he cared about cities, if he cared about Chicago, there are meaningful ways that the president could actually help. Instead, it’s denigrate, divide and disparage.”
Lightfoot said the officers coming will not be troops but federal agents, and they will be “plugged into” existing agencies in Chicago and managed by the area’s U.S. attorney. That’s a “big, important difference” from what’s happening in Portland, she said.
Lightfoot sent a letter to the administration Monday, warning actions similar to what have been seen in Oregon would “spell disaster” were they to happen in Chicago.
But Tuesday, Lightfoot said the federal government is providing “additional resources” to local branches of its agencies, like the FBI, to “help manage” crime.
“What I understand at this point … is the Trump administration’s not going to foolishly deploy unnamed agents to the city of Chicago,” Lightfoot said. “As I understand it, what we will be getting are some additional resources in the FBI, the DEA and the ATF. … What we will receive is resources that are going to plug into the existing federal agencies that we work with on a regular basis to help manage and suppress violent crime in our city.”
Unlike in Portland, the Chicago-area U.S. attorney, John Lausch, is “in the loop” and will help manage the additional resources, Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot said she’s been in conversation with Lausch about the federal agents that are coming and she has a “tremendous amount of confidence” in him — but she won’t put anything past the Trump administration.
That’s “why we’ll continue to be diligent and why we’ll continue to be ready,” Lightfoot said.
The mayor criticized the federal government’s actions in the Oregon city, saying the roundup and detainment of protesters was “unconstitutional” and “undemocratic.”
“We do not welcome dictatorship,” Lightfoot said. “And we do not welcome unconstitutional arrests and detainment of our residents. That is something I will not tolerate.”
The city would fight the deployment of federal secret agents, Lightfoot said, adding that were they to come to Chicago, the city will “rush into court.”
“… At least at this point, we don’t see a Portland-style deployment coming to Chicago,” Lightfoot said. “Now, if that changes … we will not hesitate to use every tool at our disposal.”
People who do see suspicious activity should call 911 or contact the Mayor’s Office and their local aldermen to let them know “something is amiss,” Lightfoot said.
“We need everybody in our city to be the eyes and ears on this thing because we are not going to allow democracy to be hijacked by the federal government,” Lightfoot said. “That is not happening in Chicago.”
In Lightfoot’s Monday night, four-page letter to Trump, she said the city did not need help from “secret, federal agents.”
“What we do not need, and what will certainly make our community less safe is secret, federal agents deployed to Chicago,” Lightfoot wrote. “Any other form of militarized assistance within our borders that would not be within our control or within the direct command of the Chicago Police Department would spell disaster.”
Read the letter:
The Tribune reported Trump could send dozens of Department of Homeland Security agents to Chicago as soon as this week. The Chicago Sun-Times also reported on the president’s plans to deploy federal forces to the city.
A New York Times reporter, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, tweeted he confirmed those reports and was told 150 agents will be sent to Chicago for at least 60 days, with more federal agents “expected to be deployed.”
For much of his presidency, Trump has made unrealized pledges to deploy federal troops to the city, promising crackdowns on daily crime and mass arrests of undocumented immigrants.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois said in an emailed statement the organization “will hold the Trump administration and any such federal forces accountable for unconstitutional actions.”
“This is a fight to save our democracy against a reckless administration bent on terrorizing our communities and endangering lives,” according to the ACLU’s statement.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.