Yesterday evening, Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot angrily declared Operation Legend and Donald Trump’s inclusion of victim families in its rollout a “political stunt.” Rather than send federal police to the Windy City, Lightfoot demanded that Trump endorse gun-control legislation instead — while not mentioning that Illinois already has one of the strictest gun-control regimes in the US. By late evening, however, Lightfoot ended up capitulating when Trump called her to discuss the deployment and its focus on support rather than confrontation.
Maybe a call earlier — in either direction — would have been a good idea:
After throwing a national spotlight on violent crime in Chicago from the White House – and trashing Democratic mayors in fiery campaign-style remarks – President Donald Trump talked to Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday evening to discuss the 200 federal agents he is sending to the city.
Trump on Wednesday said he is expanding “Operation Legend,” with the agents heading to Chicago to bolster existing law enforcement efforts — not create a Portland-style camouflaged paramilitary strike force that is attracting widespread criticism.
The agents will work in partnership with Chicago police and Lightfoot’s office under the direction of U.S. Attorney John Lausch, who Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, knows and trusts.
Trump and Lightfoot are in agreement over the strategy of sending in agents to plug into existing operations. Trump, who has bragged since his 2016 campaign he knows how to easily solve crime in Chicago, did not take a future heavier handed response off the table. That’s why Lightfoot is wary.
Lightfoot may be wary, but she doesn’t have much choice either. The federal government has jurisdiction over its sites, and while they generally rely on local police to deal with crime at those locations, they do have authority to patrol those themselves. Despite declaring on Twitter earlier this week that “Under no circumstances will I allow Donald Trump’s troops to come to Chicago and terrorize our residents,” Lightfoot has no legal way to keep them out.
Besides, the plan could end up benefiting all sides. The effort will focus on providing more resources on existing local-federal investigations and enforcement efforts, thereby freeing up more local resources to deal with local crime. Lausch’ role will be to keep that focus and act as a guarantor of good will, of sorts. That doesn’t necessarily mean that federal agents won’t act if crimes get committed on federal property in Chicago, but it does mean that the patrols seen in Portland won’t be duplicated in Chicago — at least for now.
For his part, Lausch has publicly committed to that discipline:
“This is not patrol. This is not against civil unrest,” Lausch told the outlet ahead of Trump’s announcement. “This is working with the Chicago Police Department to do what we can to reduce the staggering violent crime we’re facing right now.”
The federal teams will focus on “gangs, guns and drugs,” he said.
Lightfoot’s capitulation might also be an indication of her own political problems within the city. Her refusal to act during the riots got plenty of criticism from local politicians, National Review recalls, which might make her more of a bad guy than Trump at the moment:
During riots that followed the death of George Floyd during his arrest by Minneapolis police officers, Chicago city council members criticized Lightfoot for refusing to deploy the National Guard outside the city’s business district.
“My ward is a s–t show,” complained Alderwoman Susan Sadlowski-Garza in a conference call. “They are shooting at the police. I have never seen the likes of this. I’m scared.”
Alderman Raymond Lopez, a frequent critic of Lightfoot, said his district was ‘“a virtual war zone,” to which Lightfoot responded Lopez was “100 percent full of s–t.”
“Well, f–k you then,” Lopez shot back. “Mayor you need to check your f—–g attitude.”
At any rate, this is a relatively low-risk proposal for both Lightfoot and Trump, and a bit of a retreat for both as well. Trump made it sound like he wanted to take over policing in Chicago, which would require invoking the Insurrection Act and embracing all of the political risk for crime in the streets. There’s still some risk involved here if this intervention doesn’t result in a downtick of violence, but it’s now minimal thanks to a minimal involvement in municipal policing. Lightfoot now has more resources to commit to prevention, at least nominally, so she also has some incentive to show that she can make that work.
This seems like a win-win. That raises a question as to why both sides went to war with each other first, rather than work out this kind of compromise first.