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Cleveland pastor organizes gang summit Tuesday at O’Hare Marriott

The Rev. Darrell Scott, left, speaks to then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during a conference at the New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, on Sept. 21, 2016. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP/Getty Images)

A Cleveland-area minister with ties to President Donald Trump announced plans to hold what he billed as "a gang summit" at the O’Hare Marriott on Tuesday afternoon.

The news release Monday announcing the summit led by the Rev. Darrell Scott said he would team with employment, housing and education experts in an attempt to negotiate "an immediate ceasefire" to gang violence in Chicago.

But after Scott downplayed that possibility in a telephone interview with a Chicago Tribune reporter, an amended news release was sent out with that promise gone.

"I don’t know where that came from," said Scott, sounding surprised when the reporter asked him about that detail in the release. "I think they went a little bit overboard. What is this, Israel and Palestine?"

The gang summit comes a month and a half after Scott, during a public meeting with Trump at the White House, made the surprise announcement that "top gang thugs" in Chicago wanted to meet with him to help reduce the "body count."

"That’s a great idea because Chicago is totally out of control," Trump responded.

A week earlier, the president had stirred much speculation by tweeting about Chicago’s violent January, saying if city officials can’t address it, "I will send in the Feds!" Last year, homicides exceeded 760, the most in two decades.

Among those stunned by Scott’s televised pronouncement to Trump was Torrence Cooks, a self-styled Chicago anti-violence activist who had reached out to Scott weeks earlier about his idea to organize a field trip to Washington, D.C., for about 90 black youths.

In a front-page Tribune story last month, Cooks, identified in court records as a former high-ranking gang member, said his discussions with Scott expanded beyond just a field trip to how to curb violence in general. But Cooks had no idea that their brainstorming would reach the president until he happened to catch Scott’s remarks on television from the White House on Feb. 1.

In the interview Monday, Scott said Cooks was planning to bring about 15 to 20 people from different parts of the city to the event. Scott, though, shied away from calling them gang leaders, as the news release had.

"These will be people that have influence … in the community," Scott told the Tribune. "And I believe they are able to influence those in the community to act differently than they’ve been acting."

Scott’s call for a summit had drawn immediate skepticism last month, in part because of questions about how a Cleveland-area pastor could bring peace among Chicago gangs but also because of how much the gang structure has changed over the years, with gangs largely broken into factions with no allegiance to anyone.

In part for that reason, Cooks himself, in a brief telephone interview Monday with the Tribune, took issue with calling it a gang summit.

"These kids are not in gangs," he said. "They’re in seven- to 10-man cliques."

Cooks said he planned to bring about 10 youths from some of the South and West side neighborhoods most affected by violence as well as a few coaches from Chicago high schools and counselors from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago.

Scott, meanwhile, said he hopes to connect youths with opportunities that could steer them away from a life of crime.

"I’m just trying to bring some people that can help," he said. "One of the major sources of crime is unemployment. If I can bring some people that can help (with) employment, maybe that’ll help."

The news release announcing the gang summit described Scott as CEO of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump. According to published reports, Scott has said a televangelist introduced him to Trump in 2011 and that he had since visited Trump Tower "about a thousand times."

During a Fox News broadcast featuring Trump in a town hall-style meeting last September from Scott’s church facility in Cleveland Heights, Trump referred to Scott as "my pastor."

His position as a conservative and unabashed Trump supporter soon drew national attention and also rankled other black pastors who accused him of abandoning their core issues.

On Monday, Scott said he did not ask Trump to attend Tuesday’s summit in Chicago but that he planned to share with the White House any useful information that results.

"The president’s busy right now," Scott said. "This is not about him right now. If he comes, it’s automatically about him."

"I want to help make this country great again, and anything I can do to help our president, I want to do it," he said.

jgorner@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @Jeremy Gorner