Cleveland-area pastor Darrell Scott has not given up hope he can “bring down the body count” in Chicago with the aid of President Donald Trump, but the minister said he doesn’t want to overstate the importance of a Tuesday meeting with “street leaders” at a hotel near O’Hare.
Scott made headlines in February, when he left a Black History Month meeting with Trump and announced that he had been in touch with “top gang thugs in Chicago” and they were eager to discuss ways to curb violence in the city in exchange for increased federal spending on jobs and training programs.
On Monday, Scott’s National Diversity Coalition for Trump issued a press release announcing a “gang summit” on Tuesday at the Marriott O’Hare Hotel. Reached by phone Monday, Scott said the press release was in error: It won’t be a summit, and gang leaders won’t be there.
“We’re just calling it a sit-down,” Scott said in a phone interview. “They’re not in gangs . . . they’re street leaders, community activists.”
Scott had walked back his remarks after learning that the “top gang thug” he had talked with was a community activist who denies involvement in gangs. On Monday, Scott sounded chastened by the backlash from Chicago activists who have worked with youths and gang members for years.
“I’m not trying to be the hero of Chicago,” Scott said. “I’m not trying to step on anybody’s toes in Chicago. . . . Somebody called me for help. If somebody called me from Juneau or Fairbanks, Alaska, I would have responded the same way.”
Scott said he had been contacted by Torrence Cooks, who told Scott he works with youths on the South Side, not long after Trump was elected. Scott has been one of Trump’s most vocal African-American supporters, was a speaker at the Republican National Convention and hosted a press conference at his suburban Cleveland mega-church for Trump during the campaign.
Scott said Monday that Cooks had contacted “15, 20 guys” with knowledge of what’s happening in Chicago’s streets, and “anyone else who wants to come. It’s at [Cooks’] invitation.
Scott has invited several developers who have jobs to offer, and said a representative from Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office would also attend. Rauner’s office did not respond to questions about the meeting.
Scott said he had not discussed his trip to Chicago with the White House and would wait to see how the gathering goes before deciding whether to approach Trump about federal aid for the city.
“I don’t know. We’ll see what happens at this meeting,” Scott said. “If I see there’s something there worth communicating to the White House, I will.”
Trump has made Chicago a frequent topic in speeches and his Twitter feed, even making a vague pledge to “send in the Feds” to quell violence, apparently after watching a news report about the city’s murder rate.
Chicago saw 781 murders last year, the highest total in any American city. But on per-capita basis, Cleveland has a far higher murder rate — about 35 killings per 100,000 residents — versus 28 murders per 100,000 in Chicago.