‘Something Needs to Be Done’: Some Chicagoans Welcome Deployment of Federal Officers, Others Skeptical

July 25, 2020 Updated: July 26, 2020

CHICAGO—Many Chicago residents who have lost loved ones to violence say President Donald Trump’s recent decision to send federal law enforcement help is good—as long as it doesn’t mean a surge of officers on the streets, and as long as it’s accompanied by community support to address the root problems of violence.

Trump announced July 22 he would send federal agents to help with investigations in Chicago amid a surge of fatal shootings. Attorney General William Barr said the Chicago operation is different from that of Portland, Oregon, where federal agents recently moved in to suppress rioting. They drove in unmarked vans, wore military-style camouflage, and made arrests. 

“The operations we’re talking about [in Chicago] are the standard anti-crime fighting activities we have been carrying out around the country for decades,” Barr said. “[The federal agents] will be working to solve murders and to take down the violent gangs.”

Chicago resident Ebonie Martin told The Epoch Times, “I am so sick of the violence and something needs to be done,” and she approves of Trump’s plan.

Martin’s 17-year-old son was fatally shot on his way to a grocery store in Chicago’s South Deering neighborhood five years ago. The alleged shooters were members of the LAFA street gang. 

He wasn’t in a gang, Martin said, and was targeted by mistake. Unlike the majority of gang killings in Chicago, which go unsolved because witnesses are scared to testify, her son’s case was solved—with the help of federal agents. 

The investigation took years, but finally resulted in charges against two LAFA gang members. It was a collaborative effort between federal, state, and city law enforcement under the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, formed to combat drug and gun trafficking.

Another resident, Ashley Whiters, said of Trump’s move: “I think that’s worth a try. Nothing else seems to be working.” Her brother Jeffrey Whiters was fatally shot near a bus shelter in Chicago’s South Side seven years ago. His murder case remains unsolved.

Freddrica Nicholas, a resident of the violent Englewood neighborhood, lost her daughter Destiny, 24, in 2019. She was shot at a gas station in broad daylight, in the company of a friend who had gang associations, Nicholas said. 

Nicholas started her own investigation when police weren’t making much progress. She asked people around the area of the shooting about what they saw and identified the culprit, but no witnesses would testify out of fear of the gang members. The police told her they couldn’t do anything without that testimony. 

“We need help,” Nicholas told The Epoch Times. “Thank you, President Trump.”

“I appreciate this move, due to all of my tax dollars spent on cameras that appear to be of no or little help in solving all of this gun violence,” she said.

Epoch Times Photo
Crime scene tape remains on a fence near the Rhodes funeral home, where 15 people were shot July 21 during a funeral for a shooting victim, in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood on July 22, 2020. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Epoch Times Photo
Friends, family, and residents of Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood attend a vigil on June 29, 2020, for 10-year-old Lena Nunez, one of 17 people fatally shot in the city the last weekend of June. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

‘This Is Not Going to Help’

Not all residents are happy about Trump’s actions. Some disagree with the move. Some are merely skeptical that it will make a real difference. 

“He is not helping the situation by sending federal agents here. I would respect him more if he dealt with the real issues of gun violence across this country,” Antionette Mitchell told The Epoch Times.  

Her son Ireal Mitchell, 22, was fatally shot in 2016. She believes the solution to violence is to invest in disadvantaged communities and pass gun laws. 

Aisha Oliver works with youth in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood through an organization she founded four years ago, Root2Fruit Foundation. Austin, on Chicago’s West Side, has seen its share of the city’s fatal shootings. Two of the victims there in July were young children—a 7-year-old girl in one incident, and a 3-year-old boy in another. 

Oliver said Mayor Lori Lightfoot inherited the crime problems from former mayors Richard Daley and Rahm Emanual, and it wasn’t fair for Trump to criticize her.

“He’s disrespectful to our mayor and governor,” Oliver said. 

She said sending in federal agents “is not going to help. It’s going to make things worse.”

Oliver believes in local residents taking care of their own community.

“I’ve been organizing, connecting, and helping others in Austin since I was 19,” she said. “Black and brown people have to stick together more than ever now.” 

‘We Need Investment’

Celeste Campbell has also been helping youth in Austin for years, providing them with clothes. “Some black teens in Austin were lured into gangs just to have money to buy clothes for themselves,” Campbell said.

Her son Matthew Rodgers, 24, was fatally shot in 2016. 

“If Trump wants to send feds to Chicago, OK, send the Department of Human Services to create jobs, and the Treasury Department to bring some money to develop abandoned communities,” Campbell told The Epoch Times.

“We need investment and opportunity.”

Two out of five Austin households earn below $25,000 annually, according to a Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning report released in June.

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Celeste Campbell, whose son died by gunfire, calls for an end to the violence. (Courtesy of Celeste Campbell)

James Highsmith is the director of violence prevention for Project Helping Others Obtain Destiny (Project H.O.O.D.) on Chicago’s South Side. 

“For too long, shootings and murders in our community have gone unsolved,” he told The Epoch Times.

“Solving murders is what counts. … [It doesn’t matter] who does it.” 

He hopes the federal agents can help solve crimes. But he also hopes they will not get too hands-on, making a show of force on the street.

“To stop the violence, you occupy the black community? How does that look?”

Epoch Times Photo
James Highsmith was a gang leader and spent years in prison, but now works as head of a violence prevention team with Project H.O.O.D. (Cara Ding/The Epoch Times)

Pamela Bosley, whose 18-year-old son was fatally shot 14 years ago in a church parking lot in the Roseland neighborhood, is the founder of Purpose Over Pain. It’s a group that helps parents who have lost children in Chicago shootings. 

“I am praying that these federal agents, if they are sent here, do not come in and treat us like Portland,” she told The Epoch Times. “The South and West Side of Chicago do not need more military policing. This will only exacerbate tensions in our communities.”

“We need the federal agents that are being sent here to concentrate on solving the 80 percent unsolved homicide cases, including my son Terrell Bosley’s unsolved homicide case,” Bosley said.

Only about 1 in 5 murder cases involving black victims in Chicago are cleared (which generally means charges have been laid or an offender identified), according to an analysis by WBEZ radio. Nationally, the murder clearance rate is almost three times higher, at 60 percent, according to the FBI.

The mayor’s office released a statement on July 22 following a phone conversation Lightfoot had with Trump about the federal agents being sent in: “Mayor Lightfoot maintains that all resources will be investigatory in nature and be coordinated through the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“The Mayor has made clear that if there is any deviation from what has been announced, we will pursue all available legal options to protect Chicagoans.”

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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks during a press conference in Chicago, on April 16, 2020. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Homicide Numbers Spike

The most recent data released by the Chicago Police Department, ending July 19, shows 414 murders to date this year. Chicago had 275 murders by July 19, 2019; 2020 has seen an increase of 51 percent so far. 

A feature by the Chicago Tribune published in January looks at homicide rates in the city since the 1950s. In the late ’50s, the number of homicides was around 300 annually. 

But “1960s Chicago was marked by turbulent change with the number of homicides nearly doubling from the start of the decade to its end,” the article states. “Some civil rights protests turned violent as the city’s fraught racial history was on full display.”

Violence continued through the 1970s, with 1974 holding the record for highest number of homicides—970. That decade, there were around 800 homicides annually. In the ’80s, they dropped slightly, closer to the 600-to-700 range annually. In the ’90s, they spiked again, reaching above 900.

Over the past two decades, homicides declined dramatically, staying stable under 500 annually for many years. But in 2016, a sudden spike hit above 760. Numbers declined again over the next few years, with 492 homicides in 2019. 

Yet 2020 has already had almost as many homicides as all of 2019. 

“My first duty as president is to protect the American people,” Trump said in the East Room at the White House on July 22. “The citizens of Chicago are citizens of America, and they have the same right as every other American to live in safety, dignity, and peace.

“We will work with local police to identify violations of state and local laws to help ensure that offenders are caught and jailed for their crimes.”