Last week, the city of Chicago released a video of the events surrounding the death of Paul O’Neal, an unarmed 18-year-old shot in the back by police after allegedly stealing a car and leading officers on a high-speed chase.
The video, which a Chicago official called “shocking and disturbing,” sparked nationwide outrage. That outrage is understandable — and if the reports are true, it’s justified.
Stealing a car is wrong. Running from police is wrong. But neither should be a death sentence. If the investigation confirms accusations that the police shot unlawfully, the officers responsible must be held accountable under the law.
Paul O’Neal’s shooting was not the only cause for outrage in Chicago that day, however. On July 28, the date of his death, 14 people were shot in the city, according to the Chicago Tribune.
In the first week of August, there were 78 shootings in Chicago.
That level of violence isn’t perpetrated by the police. It’s what the police are trying to fight. And although many Americans seem to have grown numb to violent crime in our inner cities, it is worth reminding ourselves that it merits an equal level of concern, attention and outrage.
So far in Chicago this year, 396 people have been murdered and more than 2,000 shot. That is a 43 percent increase in murders over the same period in 2015, and a 48 percent increase in shootings.
That level of violence is unacceptable in an American city. And alarmingly, Chicago is not alone. In a study of 56 major cities in the U.S., homicides are up 17 percent on average.
Every American has the right to live in safety. To secure our communities is the first and most important responsibility of government.
We are failing in our obligation to secure city neighborhoods for the people who live there — grandparents, children, single moms and families who simply want to live and work in safety.
Americans in our inner cities deserve neighborhoods in which violent crime and gangs do not run rampant. They deserve protection and safety just as Americans in suburban and rural America deserve protection and safety. It is a tragedy that they are not protected in equal measure.
If the level of violence that is happening in Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods was happening in Highland Park or another wealthy suburb, the national media would be flooding the town. And so, in all likelihood, would the National Guard.
For those Americans who live in our violent inner cities, the Democrats have only one answer: gun control. Of course, Chicago already has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country. They haven’t stopped the violence. And if Democrats succeeded in passing one more gun control law, there is little doubt that would fail as well. So in truth, the Democrats have no answer to this crisis at all.
Donald Trump and Republicans have an opportunity and an obligation to offer an alternative future to Americans living in the inner city.
They should begin with the policies we know have worked in the past to restore safety. The practical policing methods pioneered by Bill Bratton in New York City made it the safest large city in America. Over the past 23 years, murder has dropped in New York by 83 percent. And the success of Bratton’s methods have been replicated in other cities throughout the country.
We can make our cities safe again.
Of course, more aggressive policing will mean more police engagements with criminals and other members of the community. And that will mean an increase in the potential for police to make mistakes or do wrong, as seems to have happened in the tragic case of Paul O’Neal.
This means that the surge in policing must also be accompanied by a surge in training, transparency and accountability under the law.
There is not an acceptable level of police misconduct. And there is not an acceptable level of violent crime.
The right of every single American to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is one of our nation’s founding principles. Without safety and security, these rights can have no real meaning. Safety is a challenge we can and must solve. And we must solve it for all Americans.
Newt Gingrich, a Republican, was speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. He is the author of the new novel “Duplicity” and co-author, with his wife Callista Gingrich, of “Rediscovering God in America: Reflections on the Role of Faith in Our Nation’s History and Future” (Center Street, May 17, 2016).