A coalition of community groups, elected officials, and labor organizations signed an open letter to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart over the weekend urging non-cooperation with any federal agents deployed to the city by President Donald Trump.
“We are writing to you to ask that the City of Chicago and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office cease cooperation with the federal agents being deployed by the Trump administration,” the letter, first published on Saturday, reads. “Donald Trump has repeatedly demonstrated both his callous disregard for Black, indigenous, and immigrant lives, and his increasing inclination towards fascism and authoritarianism.”
The letter has been signed by 22 Illinois state legislators including Illinois Senate Majority Leader Senator Kim Lightford and Illinois House Majority Leader Representative Greg Harris, 10 Chicago aldermen, and two dozen community and labor groups including the Chicago Teachers Union and Black Lives Matter Chicago.
The letter comes after President Trump announced a “surge” of federal officers deploying to several additional cities in America last week, including Chicago to allegedly combat violent crime. Agencies already operating in Portland, Oregon, under the direction of the Trump administration and in consort with local police however, have made protests against police brutality their sole focus, and have used tactics typically seen in military dictatorships. Both local and federal law enforcement officers have blanketed Portland’s downtown with tear gas, targeted demonstrators and journalists with pepper spray and other crowd control munitions, and have kidnapped people off the street and rushed them into unmarked vans on an almost nightly basis.
Lightfoot initially blasted the administration’s talk of federal forces on Chicago’s streets in a four-page letter to Trump last Monday, but reversed course somewhat on Wednesday after speaking to the president by phone, saying that so long as federal officers were working in consort with and to bolster local police, their help was welcome.
“Mayor Lightfoot maintains that all resources will be investigatory in nature and be coordinated through the U.S. Attorney’s office,” Lightfoot’s office said in a statement on Wednesday. “The Mayor has made clear that if there is any deviation from what has been announced, we will pursue all available legal options to protect Chicagoans.”
Lightfoot reiterated that point in a video posted to Twitter on Friday, where she said that no federal troops were coming to Chicago, “period.”
“I have made it clear that we do not need or want troops, or any other unnamed federal officers that we’ve seen in news reports from Portland,” said Lightfoot. “There are additional FBI, DEA, ATF, and other federal agents and analysts coming to support on-going federal investigations into gangs and gun violence.” The mayor added that they would be managed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and would have a “limited mission” to support “our on-going fight against violent crime.”
I remain committed and focused on the safety of all our residents and will never let the federal government ignore or trample on your Constitutional rights. pic.twitter.com/lTWUeJBjIM
— Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot (@chicagosmayor) July 25, 2020
Many remain more than skeptical of Lightfoot’s assurances however, as the Trump administration has used alleged crime waves in cities as not only a pretext to violently crack down on any kind of dissent or criticism, but flood black and brown communities that are already over-policed with even more law enforcement officers.
The groups say that they grieve deeply for the lives lost in their city due to gun violence, but that Chicago cannot police itself out of the terrible situation it’s in and the city needs to invest in resources for communities—particularly those afflicted by violence.
“Chicago has more police officers per capita than any other major city in the US, but it has not made us the safest city in the US by any measure,” the letter reads. “Breaking the cycle of violence means that the city must invest in jobs, housing, schools, and healing—not prisons and police—and definitely not cooperation with a dangerous, racist, and repressive Presidential administration.”
The letter lays out four demands of Mayor Lightfoot and Sheriff Dart. The coalition wants a cessation to all information and database sharing with federal agencies, a refusal to allow agencies to use city police or county sheriff property, staff, or other resources, a refusal to allow agencies to assume custody of persons being held by CPD or the Sheriff’s office, and an expansion of existing sanctuary zones where federal agents are not permitted to enter, interrogate, or detain civilians.
Many of the signatories of the letter have long been fighting for a wide range of issues regarding the Chicago Police Department including better accountability and transparency, improved community relations, and defunding the department either somewhat or completely to reallocate resources to services to help struggling communities. Many are working together to fight Trump’s surge.
“If you think the solution is going to come from those who created the problem, think again,” Frank Chapman of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression said at a press conference last week announcing a lawsuit by another coalition of community groups, some of which signed on to the open letter over the weekend, against Trump’s move.
“Federal authorities have promised to deploy in Chicago the same secret police force that has terrorized the people of Portland, Oregon, for more than a week, where civilians have been kidnapped, beaten, and tear gassed by anonymous federal agents,” the suit states.
“The excuse that Trump and Lori are using is intracommunal violence. Let me be crystal clear, that is BS,” said Aislinn Pulley, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Chicago, at the press conference. Pulley and others have pointed out that though police were present at the mass shooting that took place at a funeral home last week, their presence did not stop the shooting. “There were two police cars there—outside the funeral home—and they’re trying to tell us that more police are needed to address intracommunal violence? It is a lie. Chicago has the most police for any big city in this country.”
CAARPR has been leading the fight for CPAC, an ordinance that would create a body that would not only replace the current Civilian Office of Police Accountability, but create an elected police board, create rules and regulations for the department, have the power to hire and fire its superintendent, investigate claims of misconduct by officers, and more. At present, the ordinance has 19 co-sponsors in City Council.
In a statement last week, CAARPR said that Trump’s surge of federal agents could spell the “beginning of the end of democratic rights” in America.
“If we don’t act, federal agents sent to Portland and now Chicago will be the beginning of the end of the democratic rights of the people of this country to protest for rights,” the statement reads. “It’s not a coincidence that this week also Trump refused to commit to leaving office if Biden wins.”