The expression "Rome burns while Nero fiddles" is utilized to depict someone who neglects priorities in a crisis, as they occupy themselves with trivial and unimportant matters.
Please allow me to introduce you to the modern-day version of Rome’s carefree and nonplussed Emperor Nero. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, please stand up.
With the current imbroglio over Donald Trump, Jr.’s Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer during the transition period and the Trump administration’s declared war on the mainstream media sucking up all the oxygen in D.C. last week, Chicago’s chief executive quietly traveled to Europe on business, and if you dared blink, you might have missed its press coverage.
Stated purpose of said meeting was a lobbying effort on behalf of some of Chicago’s tech business owners. But let’s get real here — channeling his inner Bill de Blasio — Emanuel was seeking another tone-deaf opportunity to raise his public profile on the international stage.
And also like his Big Apple colleague, he elected to travel at a wholly inopportune time. For de Blasio, it was skipping an assassinated police officer’s memorial service so he could gather with fellow #Resistance members who opposed President Trump’s visit to Hamburg, Germany. And for the Second City’s mayor, it was a self-absorbed trip across the Pond ostensibly to raise his Q Score. Why else choose this moment in time to continue his bromance with London Mayor Sadiq Khan and pad his social media photo collection on stops to Berlin and Milan? Was he not aware of the unrelenting gang violence in Chicago and its otherworldly homicide statistics suggesting not an epidemic, but a pandemic of violence reminiscent of a warzone?
Apologies. I’ve said too much…
Look, I served as an FBI chief in upstate New York from 2008-2012, and one of the most pressing concerns for my office was the gang violence in Newburgh, New York — a small city which once claimed the ignominious distinction of being labeled "the murder capital of New York State." Focused federal investigative and prosecutorial efforts targeting the gangs that proliferated there, heretofore unseen collaboration between federal, state, and local law enforcement, and a trust covenant with the community cemented by a relationship earned through volunteer work and time investment ultimately proved to be the margin of victory there.
Newburgh is undeniably a safer place now, statistically, as well as the feeling one gets when visiting there today, versus say, 2009. And I certainly recognize the disparity between the size and magnitude of Chicago — some 2.7 million people — and Newburgh, a city of some 29,000. That makes Newburgh about 1 percent of Chi-Town’s population. But Mayor Emanuel certainly has more public resources at his disposal than we did in Orange County, New York. Therefore, please resist the need to make excuses. Your problem demands fixing, Mayor Emanuel.
Do you also recall the incredible turnaround in Times Square and in New York City, as a whole, under the Giuliani administration? Places that were once thought to be impossibly unsafe became safe again. Yet the very policing methodologies employed to secure this peace and restore law and order continue to be under assault by Leftist politicians like de Blasio and Emanuel. And both remain defiant in their verbal assailing of any efforts to further curtail crime or supply police with the power to do their jobs. Emanuel taunts the Trump administration and pledges that Chicago will forever remain a "sanctuary city," in direct defiance of federal law.
And then he wonders why he can’t seem to get a handle on the suffocating violence his city has long succumbed to. We’re all conditioned in the smartphone age to check our favorite online sites at regular intervals. How telling is it that on Monday mornings I hold my breath as I scroll through the Chicago press reports to see what the body count was for the weekend? We’re numbed by the numbers. As long as we don’t see faces, hear names, have any visceral connection to the statistics, then that’s just what they are — statistics. And the numbers can be so cold, and impersonal, and seem just an abstraction.
But here’s something that isn’t an abstraction: Niall McCarthy in a Forbes Magazine article dated September 8, 2016, entitled, "Homicides in Chicago Eclipse U.S. Death Toll in Afghanistan and Iraq," spoke truth-to-power. By calculating all combat casualties between 2003 and 2016 and comparing them to Chicago’s homicide statistics related to gang violence, he made a staggering conclusion — Chicago was a far more dangerous place to reside than was a military posting to Kandahar or Khost.
Hey, Mayor Emanuel, are you listening? Maybe last week’s self-aggrandizing tour of Europe’s sympathetic Leftist enclaves fortifies you. Maybe it emboldens you and convinces you that the course you’ve charted for the Second City is the correct one. But as America’s big cities inarguably get safer, your city remains an outlier — a dangerous denizen of gang violence and lawlessness. And since Chicago has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, well, Hell, blaming guns isn’t the answer either.
Maybe it’s time to have a tough chat with the man-in-the-mirror, Mr. Mayor. Your city is engulfed in flames. And you continue to channel your inner Vivaldi while dragging your bow across the strings of your taxpayer-funded Stradivarius. Isn’t it time to return from your European trip — the figurative bath in Lake Rahm — cast the fiddle aside and attend to what ails Rome?
James A. Gagliano is a 1987 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. Following his service as an Infantry Officer in the U.S. Army, he entered the FBI, serving in a myriad of positions in the investigative, tactical resolution (SWAT), undercover, diplomatic and executive management realms. He was a member of the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) and has posted to assignments in Afghanistan, Mexico City, and parts of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. He retired in December of 2015 from the FBI’s New York City Office. He currently serves as a Law Enforcement Analyst for CNN, provides Leadership consultation for corporate clients of the Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG) at his alma mater, and instructs undergraduates at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, where he earned an M.P.S. in Homeland Security and Criminal Justice Leadership in 2016. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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