CHICAGO — It has been a central theme of Donald Trump’s campaign in recent weeks: the ongoing bloodshed from gun-related violence that has plagued the streets of inner city Chicago, killing more than 500 people so far this year and wounding thousands more.
In stump speeches all over the country and at Monday’s debate against Hillary Clinton, Trump has repeatedly invoked the violent turmoil in President Obama’s adopted hometown, calling it a daily horror that no one in America should suffer.
“You walk down the street, you get shot,” Trump declared at Monday’s debate. “In Chicago, they’ve had thousands of shootings, thousands since Jan. 1. Thousands of shootings, and I say where is this? Is this a war-torn country? What are we doing?”
Trump has mentioned the subject almost daily over the last month, speaking in interviews and at other public appearances. But it seems there is one place where the GOP nominee does not want to talk about Chicago’s violence: in Chicago.
Visiting the Windy City on Wednesday, Trump did not go to see for himself the neighborhoods that have suffered the most from gun violence. At the same time, Trump notably omitted the subject at his lone public campaign stop here, where he addressed the Polish National Alliance on the city’s far northwest side. His other campaign stop, a fundraiser in the Chicago suburbs, was closed to reporters.
It’s unclear why Trump didn’t address the issue. A Trump spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Since late summer, Trump has been citing Chicago’s deadly plague of violence almost daily. He has used it not only to cast himself as the candidate who will restore “law and order” to the nation, but also as an appeal to African-Americans and others who he says were betrayed by Democrats unwilling to do anything about the shootings.
“We have to help them,” Trump said at a campaign rally Tuesday night in Melbourne, Fla. “It is unacceptable.”
Trump’s pitch on rebuilding the inner cities and making streets safer comes as he tries to make inroads with minority voters who have been skeptical of his candidacy amid inflammatory statements he’s made about immigrants and other voting blocs.
In recent weeks, the celebrity businessman has taken his unlikely campaign for the White House to unexpected settings, including to predominantly black churches in Detroit and Cleveland. There, he’s bemoaned the crimes affecting African-Americans and Latinos, pledging that if he’s elected, he would make it a priority to secure the streets and invest heavily in education and job creation to make their daily lives better.
But he’s also sparked criticism with suggestions of how he might do that. Last week, Trump proposed that Chicago police officers be able to employ stop-and-frisk, a controversial tactic allowing random search that was discontinued by the New York Police Department after a federal judge found that it unfairly targeted minorities.
At Monday’s debate, Trump trashed the ruling, saying it was issued by a “very ‘against-police’ judge.” But specifically citing Chicago, he also called for better relationships between law enforcement officers and the community they serve.
“You don’t have good community relations in Chicago,” Trump said, reminding voters that he owns a hotel there. “It’s terrible what’s going on in Chicago.”
Twenty-four hours later, in a speech that seemed to focus on missed opportunities at the debate, Trump invoked Chicago again, citing statistics on the latest number of those senselessly killed.
“Nine more people, think of it, nine more people were shot in Chicago yesterday. Yesterday!” Trump told supporters in Florida.
The GOP nominee accused Clinton of doing nothing to help Chicago and other cities beset by crime, adding he would “never back down from trying to save American lives.”
“I will never back down from fighting to rebuild our inner cities,” Trump declared. “How much more violence must there be on our streets before Hillary Clinton abandons her scripted and rehearsed lines and speaks authentically for even one second about the real problems facing our nation?”
In the days leading up to his visit here, there had been rumors that Trump might participate in a local event to talk about Chicago’s violence. But nothing was added to the schedule. Instead, on Wednesday morning, he traveled from his hotel, just off the Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago, to an office complex on the northwest side of the city, far from the neighborhoods most affected by the gun epidemic. There, he spoke briefly on foreign affairs issues and made an appeal for Polish-Americans to back his candidacy.
“I hope I get every single Polish-American vote in this country,” he said.