When federal officials announced they charged 61 people in Chicago as part of Operation Legend in August, that number meant little to Marquinn McDonald, who goes on late-night patrols in his South Side neighborhood to make sure the elderly, women and children get home safely.
“They have their numbers. That’s beautiful. They made 61 arrests,” he said with some sarcasm. “OK, you locked up a person, but another person just died.”
In Chicago, weekly murder numbers dropped after the launch of Operation Legend, a crime-fighting initiative that the Justice Department deployed in nine cities since July. The week the charges were announced, 10 people were killed – less than half from before federal officers were sent. But that number has since doubled again.
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The Trump administration has used the muscle of the federal government to crack down on violent crimes. At President Donald Trump’s campaign rallies, the words “law and order” have become a staple, as he sells himself to voters as a tough-on-crime leader while casting big cities led by Democrats as places where anarchy and lawlessness reign.
During a heated and chaotic exchange in the presidential debate Tuesday night, Trump, again, attacked cities such as Chicago and New York over rising crime there, taunted Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden over his law and order record, and stoked fears of a suburban extinction.
“The people of this country want and demand law and order … and you won’t even say the phrase,” Trump said, adding that if Biden were elected, “the suburbs would be gone.”
Biden REFUSED to use the term, LAW & ORDER! There go the Suburbs.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2020
Trump’s partner in the effort has been Attorney General William Barr, whose Justice Department sent hundreds of federal officers to Kansas City, Missouri; Chicago; Albuquerque; Detroit; Cleveland; Milwaukee; Memphis; St. Louis and Indianapolis. Thousands have been arrested, including many fugitives. Dozens of guns and significant amounts of drugs also have been seized.
But violent crime is far from dissipating in cities where the heavily trumpeted federal initiative was launched, and experts say it’s far too early to assess whether Operation Legend is a success or a “prop.”
‘Just for show’ or ‘literally saving lives’?
The rushed nature of the program – timed in the months leading up to the election and, at times, without buy-in from local officials in the cities where it was expanded – has opened it