Here’s a salient point about Chicago, location of the president’s much-touted birthday bash and home of a people far too progressive and enlightened to ever keep a Chick-fil-A in business: A lot of murders happen there. As the Daily Beast reported, the Windy City had more than 250 murders in the first half of 2012. Meanwhile, New York City, which is three times Chicago’s size, had 193, a record low. While the nationwide homicide rate has been falling, Chicago’s has been moving in the opposite direction — and its murder rate is now more than twice Mexico City’s. A few especially horrifying killings, like that of seven-year-old Heaven Sutton, have left Mayor Rahm Emanuel sounding — understandably — a little desperate. In an interview with CBS News, he said, “We’ve got two gangbangers, one standing next to a kid. Get away from that kid. Take your stuff away to the alley.”
But suggesting that gang members try not to shoot at each other when children are around isn’t the mayor’s only new crime-fighting tactic; he’s also welcomed the help of Louis Farrakhan, noted anti-Semite and supporter of the late Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi. “They have decided, the Nation of Islam, to help protect the community. And that’s an important ingredient, like all the other aspects of protecting a neighborhood,” the mayor said, speaking of an army of men Farrakhan formed, called the Fruit of Islam. Its members have been spreading throughout the city “to form a human wall of protection against any sudden outbreak of gunfire,” reports the Chicago Sun-Times. So it’s safe to assume that “something really bad is going on in Chicago,” as David Muhlhausen, a crime analyst at the Heritage Foundation, puts it.
“Anytime you would link yourself to Louis Farrakhan, who’s a hatemonger, you must be pretty desperate,” he says.
Desperate times, desperate measures? Or is there something else behind this partnership between Emanuel, a liberal who volunteered for the Israeli Defense Forces during the Gulf War, and the leader of the Nation of Islam, an anti-Semite who has referred to homosexuals as “swine”?
Fred Siegel, a urban-policy fellow of the Manhattan Institute, a City Journal contributing editor, and author of The Future Once Happened Here: New York, D.C., and the Fate of America’s Big Cities, thinks so. He says that Emanuel and Farrakhan aren’t actually strange bedfellows by Chicago standards — as the Chicago Tribune has pointed out, Al Capone’s defense attorney, a close friend of his, was also a former state legislator. And close ties between gang leaders and aldermen aren’t uncommon, either; a Chicago magazine investigation found that many city officials “routinely seek political support from influential street gangs.”
Further, while race is a driving force in Chicago politics, anti-Semitism doesn’t always hurt leaders’ careers.
“This is local Chicago stuff,” Siegel says. “Anti-Semitism is okay in that political world, and Emanuel has neither the courage nor the integrity required to combat it.”
Unlike Alderman Debra Silverstein, who noted that Farrakhan’s anti-violence efforts don’t “eradicate the comments that he’s made about the Jewish community,” Emanuel offered no reprimand of the minister’s anti-Semitism. Ultimately, the mayor’s condoning of the Nation of Islam leader shouldn’t surprise anyone.
“It’s the Chicago way that we’re seeing made visible here that frightens people so much about Obama — the idea that everything can be politicized, no boundaries,” Siegel says.
Corruption within the Chicago government and police department sometimes results in certain neighborhoods going unpatrolled, Siegel says — so enlisting the support of a controversial figure could be far more politically expedient than trying to create real reform. Plus, Farrakhan can probably influence voters in ways that Chick-fil-A can’t.
Regardless, this apparent politicization of law enforcement has left many observers concerned.
“I don’t understand why a Jewish mayor would make nice with this man who has repeatedly uttered insults and taunts towards Jews,” said Steve Stanek, a research fellow at the Heartland Institute and lifelong Chicago-area resident. “But, you know, Jesse Jackson’s done it. He’s still a power in Chicago, too.”
“I’m worried about these political calculations,” he added. “I wonder what he saw that made him think it’s a good idea.”
John Tillman, CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute, says that this outside involvement shows the Second City is failing to fulfill one of the basic responsibilities of local government. “Who he’s outsourcing it to is less important than the fact that he feels compelled to outsource public safety because they cannot control crime and the murder rate is rising,” he says.
In all of this, one group of people must feel vindicated: the organizers of the 2016 Olympics, who rejected the president’s bid to host the games in his hometown.
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.
Editor’s note: This piece has been amended since its original posting.