Ohio pastor claims Chicago gangs want to work with Trump to lower crime
Rev. Darrell Scott said "top gang thugs" in Chicago want to meet with Trump to reduce the city's gun violence
By Annie Sweeney and Jeremy Gorner
WASHINGTON — A Cleveland minister's surprise comment to President Donald Trump on Wednesday that he had heard from "top gang thugs" in Chicago who wanted to meet with him to reduce the city's gun violence was quickly ridiculed by anti-violence groups here as likely to fail and certainly out of touch with longtime gang dynamics.
The Rev. Darrell Scott, a strong Trump supporter, could not be reached to provide details on the "sit-down" he said he planned to hold in Chicago in a couple of weeks about "lowering the body count."
But those who have been doing anti-violence work in Chicago for years said the idea of an outsider coming to Chicago to untangle gang conflicts was suspect.
"The idea is great, but trusted insiders are really crucial because you need that understanding of what both sides are dealing with," said Charles Ransford, director of science and policy at Cure Violence, which has mediated gang conflicts for more than 15 years in Chicago.
Ransford and others said Scott's plan also seemed out of step with Chicago's gang structure, which long ago splintered into smaller neighborhood divisions that are offshoots of the once-larger, more organized super-gangs that had powerful leaders.
"Chicago no longer has the gang hierarchy it used to have," Ransford told the Tribune. "It's much more a block-by-block clique system. How can I say this? They would need to call a lot of people to the table to really be able to cover all the different cliques and gangs. There is not just a handful. There is a lot of them."
But Trump, who met in the White House with Scott and others for an African-American History Month event, embraced the minister's remarks.
"That's a great idea because Chicago is totally out of control," the president said of Scott meeting with Chicago gang leaders to reduce the violence.
Scott went on to say that the gang leaders in Chicago had committed "to lower that body count" in return for added social programs from the federal government.
"If they're not going to solve the problem — and what you're doing is the right thing — then we're going to solve the problem for them because we're going to have to do something about Chicago," the president said. "Because what's happening in Chicago should not be happening in this country."
"They want to work with this administration," Scott said of the Chicago gangs. "They believe in this administration. They didn't believe in the prior administration. They told me this out of their mouth. But they see hope with you."
"I love it," Trump said.
The comments marked the third time in the first two weeks of his presidency that Trump has singled out Chicago for its surging violence. Homicides exceeded 760 last year, the worst in two decades.
Even as Scott and Trump were discussing their own solutions at the Washington event, Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson was at the Englewood District station Wednesday morning for a news conference outlining part of the department's crime-fighting plans for 2017.
Johnson first addressed the disappointing crime statistics from January. Violence remains stubbornly high as the city recorded about the same amount of homicides and shootings in January as the year-earlier period.
Much of the violence remains centered in three police districts – Englewood on the South Side and Harrison and Austin on the West Side — where half of the 51 homicides took place in January.
While Trump's latest comments had not yet been made public, Johnson was asked about the president's repeated commentary about the city's violence woes.
Putting a positive spin on the issue, Johnson said he welcomed the president's attention to the problem.
"I like the fact that he recognizes Chicago has some challenges," he told reporters.
Johnson said he'd also welcome further federal help — more federal agents to work on gun cases that target repeat offenders and added financial support for crime-ridden neighborhoods that suffer from unemployment and economic opportunities.
"You have to give better jobs, better mental health, better education. Those are long-term solutions," Johnson said. "If I could write a blank check, I would ask for more funding and programs to give (offenders) an alternate path."
Scott, the Cleveland-area minister who served on the president's transition team, gained attention during the presidential campaign by saying on CNN that Trump had "bailed out the auto industry." He quickly realized his error and corrected himself.
According to New Spirit Revival Center's website, Scott is its co-founder and senior pastor since 1994. The church, in Cleveland Heights owns a gospel radio station and a record label that produces gospel music, according to the website.
Chicago Tribune's Katherine Skiba contributed.