Leave aside for the moment all the weighty legal and political questions that would be raised by a president’s unilateral decision to move federal troops, or federal law enforcement officials, into an American city en masse in the name of crime prevention. Leave aside the notion of martial law, and federalism, and the Posse Comitatus Act, and a Justice Department that is about to led by a man (Sen. Jeff Sessions) who just a few weeks ago bemoaned the idea of federal intervention to fix local policing problems.
Leave all that aside and you still have this: The fact is that the feds are in Chicago today in the form of ATF and FBI and Homeland Security. The federal law enforcement officials working there have been trying for years to curb the city’s violence by stemming the flow of guns that come to Chicago from the rest of Illinois. If President Trump is serious about saving lives in Chicago he’ll prioritize efforts to stop interstate gun trafficking and he’ll ask Congress to fortify the federal laws that criminalize such conduct.
Leave aside all that and you still have this: The feds have already have been to Chicago to help policing. There was an extensive investigation that revealed a pattern and practice of police misconduct and unaccountability that has contributed to the city’s lawlessness. And that investigation led to a sweeping consent decree, agreed to by the Obama administration and city officials, that is designed to fix most of what is broken about the Chicago Police Department.
Those court-supervised reforms, in turn, would generate more trust and respect between cops and the communities they serve and that, in turn, would lead to a reduction in gun violence. On this most experts agree. If President Trump is serious about wanting to help Chicago ease out of its sorrow, he would endorse that consent decree and ensure that his incoming attorney general does as well. And if that means bucking up against the city’s power police union so be it. There should be no room for “de-policing” in President Trump’s America.
There are complicated reasons why Chicago’s murder rate has spiked. The solutions are complicated as well. A president’s power to end a local crime wave is limited, as this president is about to learn. But it isn’t nonexistent. Before he takes the unprecedented step of invading Chicago with federal troops that haven’t been invited there he should enforce existing law and support the progress that already has been made.
The views expressed are the author’s own and not necessarily those of the Brennan Center for Justice.