One of the most fascinating things about the media frenzy surrounding state Sen. Donne Trotter’s arrest last week was that not one of his Democratic 2nd Congressional District opponents immediately jumped in front of the cameras to comment publicly about the matter.
They stayed silent even when Trotter, D-Chicago, announced after he was bonded out of jail the next day that he wouldn’t drop out of the race to replace disgraced former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.
Trotter was arrested last Wednesday morning, accused of attempting to bring an unloaded pistol through a security checkpoint at O’Hare Airport. Reporters swarmed the courthouse after Trotter posted bond Thursday and then, when he refused comment, some descended on his home on the Chicago’s South Side.
His arrest was one of the biggest news stories in the city, mainly because of his congressional bid, yet none of his dozen or so prospective Democratic opponents in the 2nd District special election contest immediately issued a statement or responded on the record to questions about the case.
One campaign insider said late last week that his operation was maintaining a “no comment” stance regarding Trotter, but marveled how it was “really amazing” that everybody had shown such restraint in a race that is so hotly contested.
Well, Trotter is armed, I cracked.
All kidding aside, the political dynamics in black-majority districts can often be a lot different than in white districts. So many African-Americans have been arrested in this country that a candidate who piles on somebody right after they’re busted by the police probably wouldn’t be received all that well by the public.
Plus, there’s an old political saw about how one should “never commit homicide when an opponent is committing suicide.”
Ironically, Trotter twice voted for the law he is accused of violating. Once was a decade ago, when he voted to increase the penalties from a misdemeanor to a felony. And the next was just a few years ago when he moved that statutory language to another part of the state law books.
“It is unlawful for any person to board or attempt to board any commercial or charter aircraft, knowingly having in his or her possession any firearm, explosive of any type, or other lethal or dangerous weapon.”
Notice the word “knowingly” in the text. Trotter told police that he forgot he had the small, .25-caliber pistol and a separate ammo clip in his garment bag.
Trotter’s story is that he didn’t knowingly bring the gun through security – which seems logical since bringing a pistol to O’Hare would be a spectacularly stupid thing to do. The Cook County state’s attorney, however, has decided to go ahead and charge him with a Class 4 felony, which carries a prison sentence of 1 to 3 years and a fine of up to $25,000.
But a former county state’s attorney who was also once a legislator says that Trotter’s “I forgot” defense will be a “tough slog.”
“The case law on this provision [knowledge] is clear and well established,” the prosecutorial veteran said in an email message last week.
“About the only way I could see a possible defense under this provision would be if Donne picked up someone else’s luggage that looked just like his luggage and carried it to security without ‘knowing’ that it contained a gun – or that someone planted a gun in his luggage.”
The former legislator said that while he always liked Trotter, the Chicago senator is “in a world of hurt with the law.” But he added it’s “ridiculous” that every unlawful use of a weapon charge is a felony, a penalty that Trotter ironically supported. “There is no misdemeanor provision of [unlawful use of a weapon] available for first-time offenders,” he grumbled.
And word from inside is that Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez may take a hard look at Trotter’s revelation about his special gun-carrying permit via a job with a Chicago security company.
Things could get very ugly, or end very quickly. And his opponents may already have jumped on Trotter by the time you read this.