As federal deployment looms, Chicago mayor calls for end of violence

(Reuters) – Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday called on witnesses to come forward with information about an overnight gunfight at a funeral, a day after she said she would welcome help from the FBI and other federal agencies, but not a “Portland-style deployment” of “unnamed agents” to her city’s streets.

Lightfoot spoke a day after gang members opened fire at a funeral on Chicago’s South Side and attendees fired back, injuring 15 people. Two of those shot are in critical condition, while the other 13 are expected to recover.

The mayor, a Democrat, also detailed a separate shooting on Tuesday of a 3-year old girl by two men who fired into the car she was in with her parents. The girl was shot in the head but is in stable condition, police superintendent David Brown told the same news conference.

The violent flare-up could provide fodder to President Donald Trump and his Republican allies, who have sought to promote a law-and-order message ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election. Critics say the administration is seeking to divert attention away from its widely criticized response to the coronavirus pandemic, one of the reasons he is trailing Democratic challenger Joe Biden in opinion polls.

Trump threatened earlier this week to send FBI and other federal agents to Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland, California, to help local authorities crack down on a surge in violence in recent weeks. That followed U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr’s announcement of a program known as Operation Legend to provide federal help to police in Kansas City, Missouri, where murders have spiked.

Later on Wednesday the Trump administration will unveil an expansion of Operation Legend to include Albuquerque, New Mexico, an administration official said.

The rollout of that program has coincided with the deployment of agents drawn mainly from the Department of Homeland Security to Portland, Oregon, to protect a courthouse from weeks of protests over racial justice. In that action, law enforcement officials without identifying badges have been accused of pulling protesters into unmarked vans, a possible violation of their civil rights.

On Tuesday, Lightfoot said she would take Trump to court if he sent unidentified federal agents to her city.

“The Trump administration is not going to foolishly deploy unnamed agents to the streets of Chicago,” she said as she outlined plans for an influx of identified agents from the FBI and other agencies to combat crime. “We have information that allows us to say, at least at this point, that we don’t see a Portland-style deployment coming to Chicago.”

Chicago has seen an explosion in violence this summer. There were 116 murders over the 28 days through July 19, an increase of nearly 200 percent, police department data shows.

Police superintendent Brown blamed turf battles among the roughly 117,000 gang members in the city of 2.7 million people, where one shooting begets another in an endless cycle of revenge.

“This same cycle repeats itself over and over and over again. This cycle is fueled by street gangs, guns and drugs,” he said. “Too many people in Chicago have been touched by gun violence.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday that he told Trump that his state was able and prepared to handle a spike in crime in New York City, noting that he had not declared a public safety emergency.

“And since the state hasn’t made a declaration, I don’t see why there’s any reason why the federal government should take action,” Cuomo said in a call with reporters, adding that Trump agreed with his assessment.

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