CHICAGO – Even in a city rife with distrust of law enforcement, residents were shocked by the sting operation: A semitrailer truck 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, authorities said. Three men were arrested on charges of stealing from the truck, prompting outrage in the community where faith in 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.”
Chicago police, however, were playing a secondary role in the sting: “Operation Trailer Trap” was led by Norfolk Southern Railway, with officers from its own police unit, and was orchestrated on Aug. 2 and 3 after several thefts of parked and locked freight trucks and containers in the immediate area. After the tactic was roundly criticized, the railroad company apologized and promised not to do it again. Prosecutors dropped burglary charges against the men.
But the damage was done. The operation may not have been the Chicago Police Department’s idea, but the police agency certainly bore the brunt of the backlash.
“You don’t bait people. You bait animals. Are you calling us animals?” Charles Mckenzie, an anti-violence activist who shot the video, said.
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 police, community groups plan to give away hundreds of pairs of donated shoes in the neighborhood this weekend — an idea Chicago rapper Vic Mensa is calling the “anti-bait truck.”
Mensa, who grew up on the city’s South Side, said he came up with the plan because he wanted to find a way to invest in the neighborhood. The timing of the operation — during a period of summer violence — was disrespectful, he said.
“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,” Mensa said.