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Column: Let’s give credit where credit is due for the feds’ major gang bust in Chicago. But it’s not due to Trump.

Flanked by police Superintendent David Brown, police officers and FBI agents, U.S. Attorney John Lausch announces charges in a federal gang investigation during a news conference July 29, 2020.
Flanked by police Superintendent David Brown, police officers and FBI agents, U.S. Attorney John Lausch announces charges in a federal gang investigation during a news conference July 29, 2020. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune)

Federal law enforcement officials last week took down a drug and illegal firearms operation run by a Chicago street gang whose history dates back more than a half century. That’s a big deal to those of us who are tired of the violence in our city.

But let’s be clear. Donald Trump had nothing to do with it.

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As soon as the announcement was made that the feds had arrested the alleged leader of the Black Disciples, Trump supporters were quick to portray the bust as a huge win for the president.

In recent weeks, Trump has sent federal officers to several cities run by Democrats as part of his “law and order” political platform. The move is largely considered a campaign ploy, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot agreed to allow the agents in as long as they don’t try to forcibly patrol the streets like they did for weeks in Portland, Oregon.

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The gang crackdown in Chicago resulted from a multiyear sting operation led by federal authorities already here. They were not part of Trump’s Operation Legend, which reportedly planned to dispatch 150 additional federal agents to Chicago.

Contrary to what his supporters seem to think, Trump isn’t a miracle worker. Nor are the feds he sent here. It takes years of planning and investigative work by the feds, state and local law enforcement officials to pull off a bust like this.

Trump could be out of office before we know whether his federal agent surge had an effect.

We don’t often hear much from the feds in Chicago. They don’t hold regular news conferences to keep us apprised of what they are up to. They are so hush-hush that we forget they are here, sometimes working side by side with police to weed out criminals and make our city safe.

When police Superintendent David Brown recently said street corner open-air drug markets were the pipeline to shootings and murders in Chicago, we knew he was telling the truth. But without a comprehensive plan of attack, police alone seem helpless to crack down on the operations and shut them down permanently.

It’s reassuring to see the collaboration between police and federal agents, with their vast resources and expertise, making headway.

We can breathe a sigh of relief that the reputed leader of the Black Disciples is back behind bars. Darnell McMiller, known as “Murder” on the streets of Englewood, had only been out of prison just over a year for a drug conspiracy conviction.

This time, he’s charged with conspiring to distribute fentanyl-laced heroin. He was among 23 people arrested, along with other alleged high-ranking Black Disciples responsible for supplying the street gang with drugs to sell.

Officials seized 24 firearms, 13 kilograms of cocaine, a kilogram of heroin, 1,350 grams of heroin laced with fentanyl and 378 grams of crack cocaine, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago. They also seized $52,595 in illicit cash.

It doesn’t take a crime expert to know that’s only a tiny fraction of the drugs that flow through our city and doesn’t even touch the surface of the number of illegal weapons that are circulating on our streets.

The feds can’t stop there.

Locking McMiller up won’t stop the carnage any more than it did when they put Larry Hoover, the co-founder of the Gangster Disciples, in federal prison 25 years ago.

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McMiller, 34, and his crew might be responsible for much of the bloodshed that has occurred on the South Side, but there are many layers of overseers running the pipeline that brings drugs into our city.

Someone other than McMiller and the Black Disciples are making lots of money off Chicago’s violence. None of us will be safe until law enforcement finds the true ringleaders and locks them up as well.

U.S. Attorney John Lausch, head of the Northern District of Illinois, thinks the extra manpower from Washington could help. He says this is exactly the kind of investigative work agents from Trump’s Operation Legend will do in Chicago.

If that’s true, maybe we should be more open minded. But we can’t let our guard down. We don’t know what Trump has up his sleeve.

Trump has always hated Chicago’s role as a sanctuary city. We must make sure that he won’t attempt to use the visiting agents to help U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents round up people living here without legal permission.

When it comes to violence, Chicagoans are desperate. That’s the only reason we’re willing to take the risk of trusting Trump.

The Black Disciples have been running guns and drugs in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs for decades. Police believe turf battles with the Gangster Disciples have led to several brutal killings, as well as taken the lives of innocent children caught in the crossfire.

It’s going to take a lot more work to get McMiller the kind of sentence that got Hoover off the streets for good. Hoover was indicted on drug conspiracy charges in 1995, after a five-year undercover federal investigation. He was convicted and sentenced to six life sentences. He also was convicted of murder in state court.

In the three months before the presidential election, we’ll see what Trump can do for Chicago. After that, he either won’t be around or he will no longer have an interest in promoting “law and order.”

If Lausch is confident that the additional federal agents can help get the ball rolling on new investigations or speed up those already underway, then everyone benefits.

But we can’t let our guard down. And we certainly can’t allow Trump and his supporters to take the credit for someone else’s hard work.

Twitter @dahleeng

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