President Trump returned to a familiar subject this week, remarking multiple times about the violence in Chicago and painting it as an unbelievable situation that needs fixing.
“Can you believe what’s happening in Chicago?” Trump said in his speech Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference. He also referred to the seven people fatally shot in the city on a single day this week, something he also did on Twitter the night before: “What is going on there — totally out of control. Chicago needs help!”
Chicago’s top police officer responded Friday afternoon with a sharp message: We’ve already asked for your help, and we haven’t heard back.
“We’ve made requests to the White House and the Justice Department for them to support our work — from increasing federal gun prosecution to more FBI, DEA and ATF agents to more funding for mentoring, job training and more,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said in a statement. “The mayor made the request in person as recently as last week and we are hopeful the administration will finally respond.”
Johnson’s comment was not the first time he has responded to the president, who has frequently invoked the bloodshed in Chicago as a shorthand for rising violence in some American cities nationwide. On Twitter and in speeches and interviews, Trump has time and again brought up Chicago, which has struggled in recent years to combat a wave of bloodshed.
The city had 762 homicides last year — its deadliest single year in two decades — with more killings there than the combined death toll in New York and Los Angeles, the only two larger U.S. cities. While a number of big cities saw an uptick in homicides last year, the death toll in Chicago was so high it drove up the homicide rate for the nation’s 30 biggest cities.
Through Wednesday, the city has had 99 homicides, slightly up from the same point last year, according to the Chicago Tribune. That newspaper tracks homicides and includes killings not counted in the police department’s tally (which does not include fatal shootings by police and justified homicides, and which shows that killings were slightly down in the same window).
On Thursday night, Trump’s tweet again posited that Chicago needed help, without elaborating on what the federal government could do:
Seven people shot and killed yesterday in Chicago. What is going on there – totally out of control. Chicago needs help!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2017
His comments Friday at the conservative conference followed suit. “Seven people, seven people, Chicago, a great American city, seven people shot and killed,” Trump said. “We will support the incredible men and women of law enforcement.” He promptly moved on to something else and never returned to the topic.
These remarks were the latest in a long line of Trump’s commentary about the issue. During the presidential campaign and in office, Trump has decried Chicago’s violence and weighed in on what could be done. In January, during his first White House interview, Trump called the situation “very easily fixable” and then blamed it on city officials “being overly politically correct.”
In the summer, while running for office, Trump said in an interview with Fox News that police in Chicago were fully capable of resolving the situation. When asked how, Trump, who has painted himself as a staunch advocate of law enforcement, said: “By being very much tougher than they are right now. They right now are not tough.”
Trump also said that a “top police officer” told him that there was a way to stop the violence “within one week.” (Trump’s campaign declined to identify this person, and Chicago police and union officials said Trump never met with any member of the department’s senior command staff.) Johnson responded during a news conference a week later, saying: “If you have a magic bullet to stop the violence anywhere, not just in Chicago but in America, then please, share it with us. We’d be glad to take that information and stop this violence.”
Last month, days after taking office, Trump tweeted about Chicago’s bloodshed, a message seemingly prompted by a segment on Fox News that aired that night:
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
His tweet echoed another he sent during the transition, when he said that if Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) “can’t do it he must ask for Federal help!”
However, it was not immediately clear what Trump meant by sending in “the feds.” There are already federal resources on the ground in Chicago, including multiple agencies involved in task forces with agents working alongside Chicago police officers. If Trump was referring to the National Guard, the Illinois governor has said he opposes such an idea, and federal law effectively states that activating the guard without a governor’s consent requires the president to be putting down a rebellion. (Johnson, at the time of Trump’s last threat to “send in the feds,” expressed bafflement, telling the Chicago Tribune: “The statement is so broad. I have no idea what he’s talking about.”)
Authorities in Chicago have made clear what kind of help they want. City officials have pointed to illegal guns as a cause of the city’s spiking violence, and Johnson and Emanuel have said they could use federal help in tackling crimes involving guns. Emanuel met with Trump administration officials this month, during which his office said he again asked for more federal agents and increased federal gun prosecutions.
In his message Friday, Johnson reiterated this plea for help and again assailed the bloodshed in his city.
“We have challenges with gun violence in several neighborhoods on the south and west sides of the city,” Johnson said. “It’s unacceptable to me, to the mayor and to everyone who lives in Chicago.”