Donald Trump recently met with some supporters and appointees who he misled the press into believing was a meeting with African-American leaders, ostensibly as a form of outreach to our community.
During this gathering, one of the participants informed Trump that he talked to gang leaders in Chicago, that they liked and trusted him and wanted to sit down with him. After mistakenly acting like Frederick Douglass was alive and well, Trump continued to depict Black neighborhoods as nothing but crime-ridden and desperate. Aside from this one-dimensional portrayal of Black America, and the inexcusable thought that the sitting president didn’t know who Frederick Douglass was (or whether he was living or deceased), it is abundantly clear that Trump is not reaching out to us appropriately, nor getting the correct input on our concerns. We need a real commitment — not a passing presidential tweet.
Through the years, I’ve worked with activists, church leaders, filmmakers like Spike Lee (who even did the movie Chi-Raq), and I took an apartment on the west side of Chicago myself to get a genuine sense of the issues on the ground. I made monthly visits to the windy city, hosted a special on MSNBC about this very subject and have a real familiarity with Chicago and its epidemic of violence. One thing I discovered when I got an apartment in the city was that the Chicago we knew in the ’80s, when I would go as a youth organizer, and the Chicago of today are vastly different. There are no Larry Hoovers or Jeff Forts; it’s kids on the corner like a posse who shoot over any kind of disrespect they feel was sent their way. The problem with Chicago violence is not organized, and whoever told the president that he talked to gang leaders is either deceptive or being deceived himself.
People often say guns don’t kill people, people kill people. The reality is, people can’t shoot if they don’t have guns. The New York Times recently had a front page story titled “Bored, Broke and Armed: Clues to Chicago’s Gang Violence.” As the piece rightfully highlighted, a lack of jobs, training programs and opportunities overall must be addressed if we are to get to the core of the problem. There is no other way to resolve the issue of violence. Sending in feds is more of a soundbite than a strategy. Just last month, the Justice Department announced that it found a pattern of civil rights violations by the Chicago police department. So how can you send in the feds to work with local police who were just cited? Where does Chicago authority end and federal begin? How do you deal with police that may exacerbate the problem?
If the president wants to genuinely resolve the difficulties in Chicago and wants to bring in federal assistance, then he must work to repair weak gun laws that allow guns from surrounding states and areas to be brought back into Chicago. He must use the Department of Labor resources to find and provide training and jobs, use the Department of Education to deal with the school crisis (50 public schools closed at one time just a few years back), and more. Given the cabinet nominations, it’s unlikely that these solutions will be discussed. One can only conclude that the participant who said gang leaders would speak with the president is not really dealing with the problem and neither is Trump himself.
On this one, I hope that I am wrong. The citizens of Chicago need the president and anyone else willing to authentically and effectively resolve their challenges. Anything short of dealing with the root of the problem is just something else to tweet, and not something we find solutions for. At the end of the day, violence in Chicago and elsewhere must be dealt with — even if we have to work with somebody we’re uncomfortable with.