| Memphis Commercial Appeal
When former President Trump’s Justice Department launched Operation LeGend in Memphis and eight other Democratic-run cities last July, he said it was to extricate violent criminals from the streets.
Said “this rampage of violence shocks the conscience of our nation…”
Then, on Jan. 6, Trump did more than shock the conscience of the nation. He shook its Democratic foundations when he whipped his supporters into a riotous mob that stormed the Capitol and left six people dead. They did that to stop electoral votes from being counted for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Now Trump is gone. Operation LeGend is going away too. It’s a safe bet that neither he nor that operation did much to boost faith in the justice system.
Which is why two things must happen now.
While it will likely be tough to get enough senators to convict Trump on the House’s impeachment charge of “incitement to insurrection,” it won’t stop lawmakers from exploring paths – and there are several – to bar him from running for office again.
They must do this. A president who sends federal agents to remove violent criminals from the streets of poor, mostly Black cities like Memphis should be held to the same standards of accountability for his role in using lies and delusions to provoke a violent uprising to overthrow the democracy.
If Trump is allowed to get away with encouraging an insurrection, then many people in cities struggling with crime and injustice will have even less respect for the system and for authority. Many will see it as more of the same double standard; that white people with power can commit crimes with impunity.
People who don’t respect the law won’t obey the law. And that includes people like Trump – especially since many of the people he recently pardoned were fraudsters, tax evaders and others with more connections to him than remorse for their crimes.
“If we don’t take action now, what’s to stop him from running for Congress?” said Memphis City Councilman JB Smiley Jr., who opposed Operation LeGend.
“What’s to stop him from running for mayor? Or for governor? What’s to stop him from gaining more power over people he has a disdain for?
“I think we’re doing the country a disservice if we fail to take action.”
Second, the Biden administration must avoid repeating the hypocrisies of the Trump years; years when Memphis was frequently singled out as the place to launch tough-on-crime initiatives and not tough-on-poverty initiatives.
Even though Operation LeGend wound up charging 124 people with federal crimes, Memphis still ended 2020 with more than 300 murders – a record number.
On top of that, many of those charged in Operation LeGend were charged with drug crimes, which tend to be committed by people who live in communities where the drug trade rules the economy and the culture.
Memphis could use some federal help in fixing those economic problems before they evolve into criminal ones.
“The Paycheck Fairness Act is back on the table, which I think is step in the right direction to helping people deal with poverty, but I think we need more radical and bold stances,” said the Rev. J. Lawrence Turner, pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church.
“I go back to 1963. The March on Washington wasn’t just about freedom. It was about jobs…if you do not have the means to improve your standard of living, you’re going to stay in poverty, and you’re going to find other ways to subsidize your living, which oftentimes involves committing crimes and violence…
“You can’t arrest your way into a safer Memphis.”
Perhaps the Biden administration can make Memphis the city for announcing bold, poverty reducing initiatives. Nonetheless, holding criminals accountable is still an irreplaceable part of the justice process, and meting out equitable justice goes to the credibility of the system.
Trump must pay for his deeds just like he wanted his justice people to make criminals here pay for their deeds.
Of course, there are those who say convicting Trump will further divide the nation, as well as distract Biden from the more pressing business of slowing the COVID-19 pandemic.
But those arguments are about convenience when they need to be about justice. About accountability. And as far as unity goes, the terrorists who stormed the Capitol and the people who think like them didn’t want unity. They didn’t even want a democracy.
They wanted to install Trump as President for Life.
And if the price of unity is to allow Trump to get away with violence that he incited with his delusions, even as he sent agents to deal with violence in Memphis spawned by the realities of poverty, then that price is too high.
You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Tonyaa Weathersbee at 901-568-3281, [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @tonyaajw.