Editorial: Feds have a role to play in quelling Chicago gun crime - but not with heavy hand

  • Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says the city will cooperate with federal agents but promised to fight to prohibit heavy-handed operations like those used in Portland, Oregon.

    Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says the city will cooperate with federal agents but promised to fight to prohibit heavy-handed operations like those used in Portland, Oregon. Associated Press file photo

Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 7/23/2020 9:59 AM

It seems certain that President Donald Trump will send federal law enforcement agents to Chicago to help quell gun violence that is wracking certain parts of the city. But even Mayor Lori Lightfoot did not know on Tuesday what form that assistance will take beyond the vague assertion that agents from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms will connect with "existing federal agencies" already working in the city.

Lightfoot promised cooperation, a welcome moderation of tone on an issue that has grown increasingly combative between the Democratic mayor and Republican president. But at the same time, she promised "vigilance" to ensure that Chicago does not become a repeat of what has occurred in Portland, Oregon.


There, weeks of protests that were believed to have been winding down, resurged after federal agents arrived without warning on the scene, reportedly wearing camouflage, using unmarked vehicles, detaining and arresting people and employing tear gas and rubber bullets.

That must not happen here.

It is obvious to anyone who pays the least attention that certain parts of Chicago are fixed in an intractable cycle of gun crime. Every Monday brings a new accounting of the dead and wounded -- 10 killed, 60 injured last weekend, according to authorities; 13 killed, 64 injured the weekend before; 15 killed, 79 shot over the Fourth of July weekend. Victims represent every age group from young children to senior citizens. That the city has a problem with gun crime cannot be disputed.

But the roots of that crime are diverse and complex, so the simplified notion that all that's needed is the application of brute strength is misguided to the point of being dangerous. At a time when people already are on edge about violence by police, introducing additional forces -- who may not be clearly identified and who may have powers to arrest and physically engage people -- can only make matters worse. If authorities employ tactics that ignore due process and impede the rights of people to protest peacefully, they threaten to create long-term systemic abuses and an assault on the Constitution.

In a letter to Trump on Monday, Lightfoot said the federal government can best help through "common-sense gun safety reform," cooperation with local prosecutors and the local U.S. attorney and additional resources for community outreach. Those kinds of systemic approaches to the problem cannot be ignored.

The federal presence may have some role to play in calming violence in Chicago and other major cities in the short term, but, if it does not embrace solutions designed for the long term, it will not be effective. If it becomes politicized, hostile and brutal, it will only bring more harm.

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