Trump's surge of federal agents into major cities is vilified as fear-mongering aimed at middle class voters, in spite of his assertions that Operation Legend will crack down on crime and seeks to restore order.
Amid a surge in gun violence and protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, the nation's third-largest city is on edge, waiting possible greater tension in the form of a plan by President Donald Trump to dispatch dozens of federal agents to Chicago and Albuquerque.
"I'm announcing a surge of federal law enforcement into communities plagued by violent crime," Trump said at the White House, with Attorney General William Barr and the FBI and Department of Homeland Security directors in the audience.
US president to sends hundreds of federal officers to combat violent crime in cities like Chicago and Albuquerque pic.twitter.com/4bcb3fTK9k— TRT World Now (@TRTWorldNow) July 22, 2020
The Department of Justice will "immediately surge federal law enforcement to the city of Chicago," the president added.
The White House plan emerged just days after a downtown protest over a statute of Christopher Columbus devolved into a chaotic scene of police swinging batons and demonstrators hurling frozen water bottles, fireworks and other projectiles at officers. Then, on Tuesday in another neighborhood, a spray of bullets from a car passing a gang member's funeral wounded 15 people and sent dozens running for their lives.
Attorney General Barr noted that more than 200 Federal Agents are already operating under initiative in Kansas City, with a similar number to be sent to Chicago.
Speaking at the White House, Trump blamed the increases in violence on left-leaning movements to "dismantle and dissolve" local police departments in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.
"This rampage of violence shocks the conscience of our nation," Trump said.
President @realDonaldTrump on Operation Legend: We will soon send federal law enforcement to other cities that need help stopping violent crime pic.twitter.com/lFGwikUwo7— Team Trump (Text TRUMP to 88022) (@TeamTrump) July 22, 2020
"My vision for American Cities could not be more different than the lawlessness being pushed by the Radical Left. We want to build factories in Baltimore, not Beijing. We want to make our products in Chicago, not Shanghai."
Attorney General Barr clarified, “We are rolling out Operation Legend initially in three cities – Kansas City, Chicago and Albuquerquez. We will be adding cities in the weeks ahead.”
“The murder rate in Chicago is up 48% over last year. In New York City, where the mayor has agreed to strip $1 billion from the police department, the murder rate is up 25%. Murder is up 42% in New Orleans. In Kansas City, there have already been 100 homicides this year, a 40 percent increase from the same time last year,” said Barr.
“This is different than the operations and tactical teams we use to defend against riots and mob violence. We will continue to confront mob violence. But, the operations we are discussing today are very different – they are classic crime fighting.”
Strain and uncertainty
Communities in Chicago are concerned over the fact that it remains unclear exactly what the federal officers will do upon their arrival. The plan seems to be a repeat of what happened in Kansas City, Missouri, where the administration sent more than 100 law enforcement officers to help quell violence after the shooting death of a young boy.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she expects Chicago to receive resources that will back up federal agencies that already work with the city, including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
But given the longstanding animosity between city officials and Trump, leaders from the mayor on down worry that once the agents get to Chicago, the city might witness the kind of scene that unfolded in Portland, Oregon, where unidentified agents in camouflage have beaten unarmed protesters and stuffed some of them into unmarked vehicles.
”We can’t put anything past the Trump administration,” said the mayor, who vowed to "rush to court” at the first sign of such federal activity.
If the federal agents do as they have done in Portland, one prominent minister on the city’s West Side said the situation will turn the city into a “magnet” for the same kind of people who infiltrated the protest over the statue, put on dark clothes and distributed and threw projectiles at police from behind umbrellas.
“It’s going to be like that, but on steroids,” the Rev.
Marshall Hatch warned. “Chicago is one of those epicentres where you already have an unsettled social situation and racial situation, and you’re going to find out that Chicago is a lot more volatile in the middle of a long hot summer than Portland is.”
He fears such a chaotic scene is exactly what the president wants.
“He’s working on his reelection, and he might be wanting to use an out-of-control Democratic-controlled city to somehow scare the middle class into thinking he’s the only one standing between them and the barbarians,” Hatch said.