CHICAGO — Arriving in the midst of one of the most wide-ranging political corruption probes in decades, the new FBI leader is no stranger to Chicago.
Emmerson Buie grew up in Englewood and still remembers navigating gang turf and violence during those years.
“I believe to this date, in some regards, I probably had a guardian angel because I never got the point I was hurt or injured,” Buie said. “But I came close.”
While at Lindblom High School, he credits a math teacher and football with giving him a perspective beyond his neighborhood.
“As a kid growing up in a predominately black environment, the more you’re exposed to other people, it changes you,” Buie said. “And it prepares you when you go out into the real world.”
For Buie, the real world included a part-time job managing a Taco Bell downtown before joining the Army. He earned a Bronze Star before joining the FBI.
“Being a combat veteran, you can’t help but be a patriot,” Buie said.
Buie comes to Chicago from El Paso. His transfer was delayed by a mass shooting at a Wal Mart. 22 people were killed by a gunman accused of specifically targeting Hispanics.
“It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ in most cases,” Buie said. “So everybody has a responsibility to prepare.”
28 days after the Wal Mart shooting, Buie’s FBI field office responded to Midland and Odessa, Texas. A gunman with a history of mental health problems killed seven people.
At the FBI in Chicago, Buie inherits a wide-ranging, still unfolding, investigation into political corruption.
Nearly a dozen democrats from the city to the suburbs have either pleaded guilty, been charged or are named in federal search warrants.
Buie wouldn’t talk about specific cases, but said many times the motivations are similar.
They probably do it for personal reasons. They may do it for ego, they may do it for stature. Power has the ability to corrupt,” Buie said. “When these instances happen, we’re going to pursue it.”
After 28 years with the FBI, a career that’s taken him from Colorado to London, Buie said he’s happy to be back in his hometown.
“It would be nice to say we can arrest our way out of this problem, but it goes deeper than that,” Buie said. “There are social issues and opportunity issues that need to be integrated into a plan to squelch the violence.”
Buie also has the distinction of being the first African-American to lead the FBI’s Chicago office. He hopes to be an example showing kids from his old neighborhood, and beyond, what they can be.