Trump thrust himself back into the discussion of Chicago’s violence — which has spiked recently, as homicides last year reached a two-decade high — with a tweet Tuesday night threatening to “send in the Feds” if city officials were unable to stem the killings.
This tweet was his second in a matter of weeks suggesting federal intervention in Chicago, but Trump did not elaborate on what he meant. His press secretary said Trump was referring to providing resources. There are already considerable federal resources on the ground in Chicago, the country’s third-largest city.
When asked about this during a wide-ranging interview with ABC News on Wednesday, Trump compared Chicago to Afghanistan and described it as “horrible carnage.”
“People are being shot left and right,” he told ABC’s David Muir. “This year, which has just started, is worse than last year, which was a catastrophe.”
Chicago had 762 murders last year, along with more than 4,000 shooting victims, according to police statistics. The Chicago Police Department said that through Tuesday night, at the time of Trump’s tweet, there were 38 murders, up from 33 at the same point last year.
“You can’t have those killings going on in Chicago,” Trump said. “Chicago is like a war zone. ”
Trump described himself on the campaign trail as the candidate of “law and order,” and he has repeatedly vowed strong support for law enforcement. However, much as he did last year when he called Chicago police “not tough,” Trump was critical of how law enforcement and other officials were handling the violence.
“They’re not doing the job,” he told ABC. He added: “Maybe they’re not gonna have to be so politically correct. Maybe they’re being overly political correct. Maybe there’s something going on.”
Trump did not elaborate on what he meant by “politically correct,” a catch-all phrase he has repeatedly invoked to pillory others or defend himself against criticism.
His comments came less than two weeks after a Justice Department report blasted the Chicago police for what investigators described as a pattern of routinely using excessive force and violating the constitutional rights of its residents, particularly black and Latino people.
When that report was released, Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) vowed that the city would work with the new Justice Department to negotiate a court-enforceable agreement to reform the police, but the future of that remains in question under the new administration. Trump’s pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), has been critical of such agreements, and he has declined to say whether he will honor the agreement announced by Chicago officials and the Justice Departments in the final days of the Obama administration.
During his ABC interview, Trump also suggested that the violence in Chicago could be easily resolved. When he said last year it could be accomplished in a week, the Chicago police superintendent responded by asking Trump to provide whatever “magic bullet” he might have.
“You can’t have thousands of people being shot in a city, in a country that I happen to be president of,” Trump told ABC. “Maybe it’s okay if somebody else is president. I want them to fix the problem. They have a problem that’s very easily fixable.”
However, Trump did not explain how the problem was easily fixable beyond saying that “they’re gonna have to get tougher and stronger and smarter.”
Police in Chicago have blamed the surge in violence on gang members and illegal guns, many of which are transported into the city from other states. Emanuel and Eddie Johnson, the police superintendent, both said they would welcome federal aid in combating gun crimes
When asked what he meant by sending in “the feds,” Trump avoided directly answering. He said that “if they want help, I would love to help them,” and vowed to “send in what we have to send in.”
These comments still leave unclear whether Trump means sending in additional FBI agents, which has been done in other places to help combat homicides, or whether he wanted to bring in the National Guard, an idea that has been batted down by the Republican governor of Illinois. The president technically has the authority to activate the guard without the governor’s consent under a federal law known as the Insurrection Act, but the law essentially requires him to be putting down a rebellion to do so.
Trump was also asked if his comments were meant as a warning to Chicago officials. In response, he said he wanted “them to straighten out the problem.”