Emma G. Fitzsimmons, New York Times, August 24, 2018
Even in a city rife with distrust of law enforcement, residents were shocked by the sting operation: A tractor-trailer filled with Nike sneakers parked in an impoverished neighborhood on the South Side.
The “bait truck” was left there earlier this month to lure would-be thieves into a trap, the authorities said. Three men were arrested on charges of stealing from the truck, prompting outrage in the community where faith in the police is already at a low point.
“Y’all are dirty,” one young man yelled at uniformed officers stationed near the truck in a video that spread quickly online. “You wouldn’t have did it in your neighborhood.”
“You don’t bait people. You bait animals. Are you calling us animals?” Charles Mckenzie, an anti-violence activist who shot the video, said in an interview.
More than two weeks after the bait truck was deployed in a neighborhood where nearly all of the residents are black, resentment lingers over the episode. In a rebuke to the police, community groups plan to give away hundreds of pairs of donated shoes in the neighborhood this weekend — an idea the Chicago rapper Vic Mensa is calling the “anti-bait truck.”
“To see the police escort a bait truck full of shoes through a low-income neighborhood where people can’t afford basic necessities, it seemed very representative of how ill-equipped they are to deal with the city’s issues,” Mr. Mensa said in an interview.
The “bait truck” was left near 59th Place and Princeton Avenue in Englewood, a neighborhood where nearly 60 percent of the residents earn less than $25,000, according to 2015 census data. It is also among the most crime-ridden, though last year it recorded fewer shootings and other violence than in past years.
“They had been experiencing a lot of theft of firearms over there, so we have a responsibility to keep these firearms off the street and out of the hands of the wrong people,” Superintendent Johnson told reporters.
Initial reports said the police left the cargo truck open and that teenagers were targeted, but railroad officials said it was locked and the men who were arrested were between the ages of 21 and 59.
“The suspects saw a parked, unmarked trailer and then proceeded to cut open the safety seal and broke into the back of the trailer and only then did they find retail shoes in unmarked brown boxes, previously secured and hidden inside,” said Susan Terpay, a spokeswoman for Norfolk Southern.
The railroad also provided video of the thefts, which shows several men inside the truck grabbing large brown boxes. Still, railroad officials apologized in a letter published in The Chicago Tribune.
A spokesman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has received a barrage of criticism over his response to the city’s violence as he runs for re-election early next year, said in a statement that improving trust between police officers and residents had been a key part of reducing violence in the city.
“We believe Norfolk Southern made the right decision in eliminating this misguided practice,” the spokesman, Matt McGrath, said.