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CLARENCE PAGE: Trump plays politics with Chicago crime, a game only criminals win

Updated July 15, 2020 - 9:47 pm

In this summer of many discontents, my biggest frustration is the way every major crisis seems to open up another culture war. It wouldn’t be so annoying if we also saw some movement toward compromise and even agreement, but culture wars don’t work that way.

We saw an example Thursday when White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany ended her news briefing by invoking the names of eight young children, six of whom died from the gun violence that has surged again in Chicago this summer.

I winced. Although I am pleased to see attention drawn to such obviously innocent victims — all of whom were Black — after years of seeing them buried in the back pages of most minds, I am also tired — exceedingly tired — of seeing various politicians and pundits hold up Chicago’s gun violence, not so much to help resolve the crisis as to use it as a bullhorn to shame their adversaries.

Chicago is not alone in receiving this president’s wrath. Three days earlier, McEnany scolded reporters not asking one question about violence that had taken the lives of children in New York and Atlanta, among other cities. Then she quickly left the stage without taking further questions.

Criticism of crime in Chicago, the adopted hometown of Barack Obama, is a tune that Trump has been playing since his candidate days. I, for one, am still waiting for him to reveal the plan that he used to claim repeatedly had been revealed to him by an unnamed high-ranking Chicago police officer to solve Chicago’s violent crime problem “immediately.”

McEnany made clear which side she and the president were on when she chastised the “growing criticism of America’s police” and cited a Rasmussen poll from June. It found 64 percent of Americans are concerned that the growing criticism of America’s police will lead to a shortage of police officers and reduce public safety in the community where they live.

Of that number, she also noted, 67 percent of Black Americans are worried about public safety in their neighborhoods, which was a bit higher than whites and other minority groups.

Of course, Black Americans are worried about public safety. But we’re also concerned, as any other group would be, about the disproportionate numbers of allegations of racial bias and “systemic racism.”

What is “systemic racism”? I often use the example of the George Floyd video. If Derek Chauvin, the officer charged with killing Floyd, was motivated by racism — as many observers suspect based on the video — the three other officers who failed to stop him might be examples of systemic racism, a system that leads to cooperation and cover-up of allegedly racist acts.

I understand. Police work is dangerous. Self-sacrifice and group loyalty are powerful necessities in such a dangerous job. But as an FBI agent who testified against a Texas police officer in the fatal shooting of a Black teenager wrote last year, “Our first loyalty is to the law. Bad officers make maintaining that loyalty unnecessarily tough for everyone.”

They make life unnecessarily tough for civilians, who too often hesitate to call or cooperate with police, even though cooperation of victims and witnesses is essential for effective crime fighting.

That’s why we also mourn Treja Kelley, an 18-year-old expectant mother who was fatally shot last year after testifying against a man charged with killing her 17-year-old cousin.

Witnesses need to be protected so communities can be protected. Some politicians love to pit groups against each other, but policing calls for cooperation on all sides.

Contact Clarence Page via email at cpage@chicagotribune.com.

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