On his way out the door on Monday, the top federal law enforcement officer in Chicago shared a goodbye letter laying out his advice for those interested in helping the city repair itself.
Former U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon, who has served in the Chicago prosecutor’s office since the late 1990s, was among the 46 federal prosecutors let go on Friday as Attorney General Jeff Sessions looks to replace Obama-era appointees with his own cadre.
Sessions and President Donald Trump have promised a law enforcement crackdown nationwide, and Chicago’s high rates of gun violence and starkly segregated political character make the city a frequent marionette in the administration’s race-baiting puppet show.
Fardon’s dismissal prompted celebration from Trump-friendly Breitbart.com, which labeled him “Chicago’s Failed Obama-Appointed Federal Prosecutor” on Friday.
But Fardon’s letter should be of some interest to Sessions and Trump: The bulk of it is actually in harmony with the worldview animating the administration’s posturing on law enforcement issues.
Fardon does articulate some points of disagreement with the Trump administration. For instance, the letter warns in especially lucid terms against bringing in National Guard forces, as Trump has hinted at doing.
“What would a National Guard presence say to folks in those neighborhoods? This is war, and you are the enemy. The Chicago of bike paths and glistening lakefront, and economic opportunity — that’s not your Chicago, it’s ours and we will protect it,” Fardon wrote. “This is not war. Wars are fought between enemies.”
And the most important thing for the city, in Fardon’s view, is something Sessions has hinted he doesn’t want to do. “Number 1, get that Consent Decree,” Fardon writes in a list of his top five priorities for addressing Chicago’s gun violence.
Sessions has been critical of the concept of consent decrees for years, and particularly down on using them in the context of law enforcement reform. He inherits several such court-backed reform agreements from the Obama administration — calling their ongoing enforcement into question — but in Chicago, he can prevent one from even being struck.
Fardon believes that would be a critical mistake. “It’s past time to give our police officers what they need to succeed. A Consent Decree with an independent federal monitor is the only way that will happen,” he wrote.
But most of Fardon’s letter seems like it would warm conservative hearts. His advice is closer to what you’d expect from Trump fans than from the police-reform crowd.
While Fardon acknowledges the roots of Chicago’s gun violence problem go back farther, he puts the blame for recent figures primarily on police critics. He is especially critical of a legal settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to stem stop-and-frisk racial profiling through new department policies and record-keeping.
The deal “swung the pendulum hard in the other direction by telling cops if you (officer) go talk to those kids on the corner, you’re going to have to take 40 minutes to fill out a form, and you’re going to have to give them a receipt with your badge number on it,” Fardon wrote. “So cops stopped making stops. And kids started shooting more.”
The ACLU blasted Fardon’s depiction of the settlement on Tuesday, taking issue with his characterization of how the new policy works.
The twinned criticisms of Fardon from right-wing propagandists and left-leaning lawyers are perhaps predictable.
Fardon’s letter is unlikely to please people on any side of the conversation about law enforcement accountability, race, civil rights, and police legitimacy. It is a complicated document, at one point acknowledging that the city’s ills spring from “a historic run of neglect…rooted in ugly truths about power, politics, race and racism” while at another suggesting that “[t]oday’s gun violence is driven by social media.”
The letter does not suggest Chicagoans are right to distrust a police force which rarely solves the murders of their loved ones and tries to protect officers who mishandle their duties. It mentions the killing of Laquan McDonald by police and suggests the episode fanned community flames, but does not explicitly criticize the initial attempts at a cover-up.
Fardon’s solution is straightforward: More prosecutors, more cops, more federal law enforcement agents, more modest rules for police conduct. It is a vision Trump and Sessions would be likely to appreciate.