CHICAGO—On the most dangerous block in maybe all of America, people say they would like President Donald Trump’s help, but that doesn’t mean martial law.
West Monroe Street in the West Garfield Park neighborhood was identified by the Chicago Police Department as the most violent block in the city last year. In 2016, eight separate shootings on West Monroe wounded 10 and killed one. Across the rest of Chicago, there were 762 homicides and more than 3,000 shootings. 2017 has already averaged two homicides per day.
On Tuesday, the president tweeted: “If Chicago doesn’t fix the horrible ‘carnage’ going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24 percent from 2016), I will send in the Feds!”
“Something should have been done a long time ago,” said John Lomax, 70, who worked at King’s Hardware near West Monroe for 40 years. “If he [Trump] needs to send in the National Guard then send them in. If the world looks at us with a jaundiced eye, so be it. We’re the ones dying.”
Joseph King, 66, a retired home repairman who lives on the 4400 block of West Monroe said he does not allow his grandchildren them to go out front at all—and watches them closely when they go out back.
“The National Guard would help a bit, but you can’t have someone out here 24 hours a day. It’s probably just talk,” he said.
Father Michael Pfleger said it’s this desperation that scares him.
“One of my concerns is that because people are so depressed and so at wits-end, there is danger in the desperateness that people will say, ‘Go ahead, send them. If it stops the bleeding, send them,’” said Pfleger, whose Saint Sabina Church is on the city’s South Side.
“It may be cheaper to send in the National Guard than to do the real work, but it’s not going to solve anything.”
At Shop Talk barber shop in the violence plagued Austin neigborhood, which has a security door where visitors must be buzzed in because of stickups in the area, 40-year-old John Allen was skeptical.
“I don’t know if the National Guard would be good or bad, but I’m not going to be on some curfew,” Allen said as he cut hair.
He added that he thought the Chicago Police were presently scared to engage in crime fighting because of the amount of violence.
“I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the police in a squad car on the corner and someone got shot in the middle of the block and they waited 10 or 15 minutes until more police came to move because they were scared,” Allen said.
Jermaine Perry, 42, of the 4700 block of West Monroe, said the violence needs to be addressed but feared that the presence of the National Guard would scare people.
“I’ve had bullets come through my window but I’d be more scared that the National Guard would plant something on me because I have a history of drug and gang offenses,” Perry said.
Across town in the South Side neighborhood of Englewood, Antonio Rodriguez was working at Garcia’s Tire Shop, 1259 W. 63rd St., and said young people need more options and the police need to repair their relationships with the community.
“The police focus on the wrong people. They stop people going to work when they should be talking to the guys on the corner. And these young people don’t wanna do nothing, they just wanna get rich doing nothing,” Rodriguez said.
Stop-and-frisk was widely practiced in New York City until 2013, when Federal District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that stop-and-frisk as practiced in New York was unconstitutional, finding it violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection.
Despite the attention on New York with stop-and-frisk, the practice was actually used at four times the rate in Chicago under police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, according to a 2015 American Civil Liberty Union study.
“We discovered that it was widespread and inefficient,” said Ed Yohnka of the ACLU of Illinois. “The Chicago Police department conducted 250,000 stops [in summer 2014] that didn’t result in any kind of arrests or ticket or charge of any kind.”
Yohnka also said that the recently released report from the Department of Justice showed aggressive tactics often have the opposite effect than intended.
“The recent DOJ report pointed out that these types of aggressive police tactics where people are targeted because of the neighborhood they live in or the color of their skin is of course going to drive a wedge between the police and the community they serve,” Yohnka said.
But there are real crimes that need solving and few resources to do it. That’s where federal help could help, according to Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin.
“I’ve asked for Federal help since President Obama was in office last year and he never really provided that assistance, so I was elated that President Trump has tweeted and is willing to send Federal resources to Chicago to help fight the violence,” Boykin said.
“What I have said is that we need additional FBI agents, DEA agents and ATF agents who should be working hand-in-glove with the Chicago Police Department to solve these homicides,” he continued. “ We need help with that and we need to direct the U.S. Attorney’s Office to vigorously prosecute these gun crimes. Many of them are federal in nature because they stem from drugs that come here from Mexico.”
Jeff Cramer, who was an assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois from 2000 to 2009, said he believes the root of the violence problem is gangs but thinks the National Guard is not the solution.
“What would they do? Would they stand on corners with sub-machine guns? They aren’t going to do investigations to try to stop the gangs. Will they stand on corners from now until forever? I was a prosecutor in Chicago but also a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in the 1990s in New York, so I can compare them. No other city in this country, and it’s not even close, has a gang problem like Chicago,” Cramer said.
Cramer, who now is the managing director of the Berkeley Research Group, an international investigation firm, said Trump’s tweet a “cute phrase” but nothing more.
“What could be done is two things with federal money and assistance. The first is hire more federal prosecutors and more agents to do more gun and gang cases. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago has done an exceptional job on both gun and gang cases. They just recently helped convict the Hobos gang. Those kind of prosecutions dismantle the organization but they take a long time to put together so if you give Chicago more resources to go after gangs it would help,” he said.
Father Pfleger said more help doesn’t mean more incarceration.
“If he’s sending in federal resources, help with jobs, education, housing, economic development, don’t wait, send them tomorrow,” he said.
Cramer said a carrot-and-stick approach combining a way out and legal threats has worked before.
“I co-led the Project Safe Neighborhood program that took felony gun possession cases, we identified people who were felons and high-risk and would tell them, ‘Look, you have a target on your back. If you get put in the Cook County system we, the Feds, are going to know about it and are going to take you federally. If we take you federally it’s 15 years and you have to serve 80 percent of it and you’re going to do your time far away from Chicago, like in South Dakota.”
The best offense is a good defense, he said.
“You need to prosecute the gangs and gun offenders but if you can’t stop a 12-year-old boy from joining a gang, nothing will change. You can’t arrest your way out of this problem, it can’t be done. You have to give these kids opportunities besides slinging drugs and grabbing a pistol. So if the president is serious about solving this problem, then money and resources have to be directed towards that.”