CHICAGO — President Donald Trump used an event designed to mark the start of Black History Month to blast violence in Chicago for the fourth time in two weeks, vowing to "solve the problem" of violence unless officials take action.
The president told a group of black supporters at the White House that violence in Chicago was "totally out of control."
"If they are not going to solve the problem ... then we are going to solve the problem for them," Trump said when reporters were in the room. "Because we're going to have to do something ... What's happening in Chicago should not be happening in this country."
"We need safer communities and we are going to do that with law enforcement," Trump said.
But according to one pastor, the Rev. Darrell Scott of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, who was in the room and participated in discussions after the media was ushered out, Trump has a broader plan.
Talking to reporters in Washington after the meeting, Scott said, "We're going to have some proactive measures taken with Chicago."
He added, "We're not just going to send in the feds and start arresting black people," according to a Reuters report.
Scott, pastor of Ohio megachurch New Spirit Revival Center, campaigned for Trump and was a member of his transition team. (He has said his support for the president stems from what he describes as Trump's respect for Christianity and how they agree that "Christianity gets a bad break.")
With reporters in the room, Trump allowed that, "We're going to need better schools, and we need them soon. We need more jobs. We need better wages, much better wages. We're going to work very hard. We're going to do this together."
Trump said Dr. Ben Carson, whom he has nominated to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, would focus on urban issues "big league."
Scott told the president he had been contacted by Chicago's "top gang thugs," who told Scott that they had more faith in Trump than Obama, who adopted Chicago as his hometown before beginning his political career there, and wanted to "sit down with him" because of his connection with Trump.
"They believe in this administration," Scott said of the gang members. "They didn’t believe in the prior administration. They told me this out of their mouths, but they see hope with you.”
Scott said he planned to travel to Chicago "to have a sitdown about lowering that body count" and set up social programs in return. He did not identify to whom he spoke.
Trump called that a "great idea."
That claim was immediately ridiculed on social media by Chicagoans, including 15th Ward Ald. Ray Lopez, who has been calling for city officials to do more to stop violence in his ward, which includes part of Englewood.
Many Chi gangs are block by block, diff leaders over hundreds of streets. Anyone believe some pastor in OH talked to them? #TrumpTweets https://t.co/6iicfODype— Ald. Raymond Lopez (@RLopez15thWard) February 1, 2017
Scott later clarified his remarks in an interview with WBBM radio that he had spoken to former gang members who are "still connected with the pulse of the streets."
He said he would come here later this month with former boxer Floyd Mayweather and NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown.
Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the time for talking about violence here had passed.
“We don’t have to talk about it anymore — just send them,” Emanuel said of additional federal agents to investigate gun and gang violence.
“They are aware of what our requests are, and we’re ready to work with them,” Emanuel said at an event touting his efforts to expand mentoring programs to address the root causes of violence.
In recent weeks, Emanuel has been asked what the federal government could do to reduce crime in Chicago. And on Wednesday — as he has several times in the past — Emanuel said more federal prosecutions of gun crimes in Chicago and funds to hire more police officers would help reduce violence in Chicago.
The federal government should also fund after-school and summer jobs programs, Emanuel said.
In addition, police and Emanuel have welcomed an effort to expand Chicago's "partnerships with the [U.S. Justice Department] FBI, [Drug Enforcement Agency,] and [the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.]"
“What I would welcome is the resources to back up” Trump’s rhetoric, Emanuel said.
Emanuel was joined Wednesday at Hyde Park Academy in Woodlawn by Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein at the event designed to highlight the efforts of Becoming A Man, a group that has been lauded by former President Barack Obama for mentoring teens at risk of violence.
Epstein said Trump needs to do more than just "make headlines" if he wants to curb Chicago violence.
"Honestly, it seems like grandstanding to me personally," Epstein said of the president's repeated comments about Chicago violence.
After surging in 2016, violence in Chicago has shown no sign of slowing down in the first month of 2017, with just as many shootings and murders in January 2017 as in January 2016. Despite Trump's focus on Chicago, more than a dozen American cities have a higher per capita murder rate.
Since taking office 12 days ago, Trump has put Chicago's struggle with violent crime in the national spotlight four times — as he often did during the presidential election. In August, Trump told Fox News' O'Reilly that police could end the city's violence "in one week" if they wanted to.
Trump threatened Jan. 24 in a tweet to "send in the Feds" unless Chicago officials "fix the horrible 'carnage'" in the city.
In addition, in his first television interview from the White House, Trump likened violence in Chicago to violence in Afghanistan.
At an event in Englewood on Wednesday morning to detail January crime data and trends, Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said he would ask federal officials to fund programs to give those who commit crimes "an alternate path in their lives."
Johnson also called for more prosecutions of those charged with gun crimes, as well as a closer relationship with federal law enforcement agencies.
“Chicago has its challenges, but let’s be clear, spikes in violent crime has been up all across the nation, in all major cities," Johnson said.
Contributing: Andrea V. Watson