Donald Trump is visiting Chicago, a city he’s called a war zone. But what’s really true about guns there? – USA TODAY
CHICAGO â Amid an impeachment inquiry in Washington and an ongoing strikeÂ by more than 32,000 teachers and school staff, Donald Trump is expected to make his first presidential visit to Chicago on Monday, a city that he often ridiculesÂ for how its leaders handleÂ gun violence.
Trump isÂ scheduled to attend a fundraiser Monday morning hosted by Todd Ricketts, Cubs co-owner andÂ Republican National Committee Finance chairman.Â Later,Â he will speak at the largest annual gathering of law enforcement leaders in the world, the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference.Â
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, this year’s conference host,Â said he plans to boycottÂ the president’s remarks, a move that pushed Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police board to issue a vote of no confidence in Johnson.
“As police officers, our job is to be the voice for the voiceless and ambassadors to the communities that we serve,” Johnson said in response to the vote. “I can’t in good conscience stand by while racial insults and hatred are cast from the oval office or Chicago is held hostage because of our views on new Americans.”
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Kevin Graham, president of the Chicago’sÂ FOP, called Johnson’s boycott an “insult” to the president.
“I think Superintendent Johnson should not walk out of the president’s speech, particularly when the federal government has sent federal agents and prosecutors to assist the Chicago Police Department with our gun and drug problems,” Graham said.
Even when Trump spoke at last year’s conference in Orlando, Chicago played a central role in his speech.
“There’s no reason for what’s going on there,” TrumpÂ said at the time, adding,Â “The crime spree is a terrible blight on that city.”
Trump has frequently takenÂ aim atÂ Chicago over the years. In a JanuaryÂ 2017 interview with ABC, Trump compared Chicago to Afghanistan, saying, “Afghanistan is not like what’s happening in Chicago.” Trump said he would “send in the feds” to fix the city’sÂ “horrible carnage.”
“People are being shot left and right, thousands of people over a short period of time,” Trump said, adding,Â “Chicago is like a war zone.”
How ChicagoÂ hasÂ responded to Trump
Chicago hasn’t taken too kindly to Trump’s comments.
During a campaign visit inÂ MarchÂ 2016, TrumpÂ was essentially booted out of the city: Protests at a rally at the University of Illinois Chicago prompted organizers to cancel the event half an hour before it was scheduled to begin.
That same year, then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Chicago would remain aÂ sanctuary city, defying the president-elect’sÂ hardline immigration stance. The city laterÂ sued the Justice Department over a plan to withhold federal public safety grants from sanctuary cities.Â
Chicago’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot, has similarly defended her city against criticism from the president and his supporters. In August, whenÂ Ivanka Trump tweeted about a weekend of shootings in Chicago, Lightfoot fired back, saying Ivanka Trump had misrepresented the eventsÂ and had not reachedÂ out to city officials.
Given Trump’s rocky history with Chicago, it’s likely that Johnson won’t be the only one protesting the president’s visit. The Rev. Marshall Hatch, a pastor at Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist on the city’s West Side, gave Johnson aÂ round of applause at a meeting of faith leaders Wednesday.
“It is a chance to send a statement from Chicago. This is the one place the president has almost been fearful to come,” Hatch said. “Thereâs a very active, progressive element in this city. I suspect heâs going to get the kind of greeting here that he doesnât get in other cities.”
Trump’s speech could worsen the tense relationship between police and communities, said Ciera Walker-Chamberlin, a minister in the Jesus Christ House of Prayer Church and executive director of Live Free Chicago, which works on mass incarceration and violence prevention.
“Here in Chicago, we have worked very hard to rebuild trust between police and the community and the last thing we need is for the president to undermine that with a tough-on-crime speech to police chiefs. If he really wants to help, he should fund violence prevention programs and support criminal justice reforms,” she said.
The Rev. Michael L. Pfleger, a pastor at St. Sabina Church and an anti-gun violence activist, said he wrote a letter to the president encouraging him to visit with Chicagoans living on the South and West sides.
“Mr. Trump has continually tweeted and spoken in sound bites about Chicago,” Pfleger said. “Since he is coming, take time to listen and learn, to see how he can help. If he is only coming to pick up money, he should stay home.”
Nearly 3,000 people haveÂ expressed interest in a Facebook event for a protest of Trump’s visit. The event, calledÂ “Get Out of Our House!,” is being organized by groups including Indivisible Chicago and the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America.
“The last time Trump tried to come to Chicago at UIC Pavilion, the Chicago community showed up, forcing Trump to cancel and leave town. We need to do that again, but it’s going to take all of us,” organizers wrote in the event description.
It was not immediately clear if Chicago teachers and school staff would join the protest Monday,Â which wouldÂ mark theirÂ eighth day ofÂ strike.
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Is Trump right about gun violence in Chicago?
Trump often holds up Chicago as a supposed example of how tougher gun laws don’t prevent shootings.
“In Chicago, which has the toughest gun laws in the United States, probably you could say by far, they have more gun violence than any other city,” Trump said in aÂ 2016 presidential debate â a claim that he has since repeated.
That’s not exactly true.
In recent years, Chicago has indeed reportedÂ the nation’s mostÂ homicides.
But Chicago is also the nation’s third-largest city. Homicide rates in ChicagoÂ paleÂ in comparison to those of other cities when taking into account its population of more than 2.7 million people.
Even considering firearm-relatedhomicide rates, specifically, Chicago isÂ not a stand-out.
“When people say that Chicago is the ‘homicide capital of the United States,’ theyâre referring to the homicide count,â said Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicagoâs Crime Lab, which partners with the Chicago Police Department. “Chicago’s actually gotÂ a middle-of-the-pack homicide rate, per capita.”
Crime rates in Chicago have generally tracked with trends in other major U.S. cities. But that pattern broke in 2016, when Chicago witnessed aÂ uniqueÂ surge of gun violence and capturedÂ theÂ nation’s attention.
“Chicago had a remarkable spike in homicides, for unclear reasons, in 2016. But since then, itâs recovered by a large percent,” said PhilÂ Cook, a professor at Duke University’sÂ Sanford School of Public Policy. “It looked to all the world like an epidemic outbreak in relatively few neighborhoods.”
A disproportionate amount of thatÂ violence occurredÂ in a handful of neighborhoods on the city’s South and West sides. These predominantly African American neighborhoods suffer from high levels of poverty, few job opportunities and often lack basic amenities like grocery stores.
But even at its peak in 2016, Chicago’s homicide rate remained lower than that of smaller cities like Detroit, Baltimore, New Orleans andÂ St. Louis. Chicago’s homicide rate also remained below its own recent peak at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic in the 1990s.
Last year, Chicago againÂ had the nation’s highest number of firearm-related homicides.
But the city’s firearm-related homicide rate, per capita, trailed St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans, Detroit, Memphis, Kansas City, Newark and Philadelphia, according to FBI data. In 2018, St. LouisÂ reported aÂ firearm-related homicide rate three times that of Chicago.
For the past two years, shootings and homicides have been declining in Chicago, and 2019 is on track to continue the trend.
Several factors could be contributing to the decline, including an expected leveling-off following the surge of violence in 2016, Ludwig said.
“Weâve generated some evidence that at least part of the cause is management changes at the Chicago Police Department. But there have been a bunch of other activities underway to reduce gun violence in the city,”Â Ludwig said.
What about Chicago’s ‘toughest guns laws’ in the nation?
Experts sayÂ that while Chicago is among the states with stricter gun laws, it’s not the most restrictive.
Illinois ranks eighth in the U.S.Â for strongest gun laws, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.Â The organization saysÂ Illinois â which became the final state toÂ allowÂ concealed carry in 2013 â hasn’t gone as far as other states on regulating gun dealers, limiting bulk firearm purchases and restricting large-capacity magazines. Its penalties for violating gun laws also aren’t as strong as those of other states.
A 2017 report by the City of Chicago found that stronger state and federal gun laws would help reduce gun violence in Chicago, as aÂ majority of illegally used or possessed firearms recovered in the city could be traced back to states with less regulation over firearms, such as Indiana and Mississippi. Subsequent research hasÂ substantiated these findings.
“Cities and states canât unilaterally regulate the gun problem because guns flow so easily across city and state lines. Itâs really going to require federal regulation,” Ludwig said.
Alexandra Filindra, a political science professor atÂ the University of Illinois Chicago, is critical of Trump’s characterization of gun laws in the city.
“It is incredibly naive and simplistic to say that because we have high violence in one area, that means that gun laws are not effective,” Filindra said. “Trump has used Chicago as a dog-whistle in the past, and I think that his visit to Chicago will be interpreted in the same way.”
Follow Grace Hauck on Twitter @grace_hauck.