Now that he’s back in Chicago, the city’s new FBI chief says he hopes to visit Soldier Field — this time, as a spectator.
Emmerson Buie Jr. once spent time on the field, playing football for Lindblom Technical High School against Robeson High School in the public league championship in 1981. The Chicago Sun-Times said banners misspelled Robeson’s name when the schools met that year, but Robeson otherwise “spelled d-e-f-e-a-t for Lindblom 38-8.”
“We lost,” Buie said Tuesday, recalling the score as even worse than reported. “It was pretty bad. Robeson was probably the best team in the city then.”
Robeson’s victory made the front page of the Sun-Times on Nov. 29, 1981. But so did another headline — about a federal grand jury probe of then-Ald. William Carothers, who would later be convicted of attempted extortion.
Nearly 40 years later, Buie, 54, has returned to a Chicago that still struggles with public corruption. But far from his high school football days, Buie has taken over as the FBI’s first African American special agent in charge here. He succeeds Jeffrey Sallet, who left in September for a job with the FBI in Washington, D.C.
Now Buie, the onetime youth from Englewood, will play a key role in what appear to be multiple, ongoing federal public corruption investigations that have so far led to charges against three politicians — Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), state Sen. Thomas Cullerton and former state Rep. Luis Arroyo. Two other politicians have been outed this year as FBI cooperators. And several more appear to be in federal crosshairs.
“Public corruption has been a cornerstone of my career,” Buie told the Sun-Times Tuesday. And, he added, it “will continue to be, in the Chicago division.”
Still, Buie declined to get into the details of the aggressive work being done by the FBI in Chicago. He started his new job Oct. 15. In his second week, a federal jury convicted two Chicago police officers on corruption charges. Three days later, Arroyo was arrested on a federal bribery charge.
“The American public as well as the city of Chicago has a right that their public officials and their law enforcement officials are upholding a certain standard,” Buie said. “Therefore, as we investigate those matters, we try to do them as respectfully and professionally as possible.”
Buie left Chicago in April 1988, as his career began. But he said his interest in the city — and its sports — never waned. Family remained here and kept him informed. Meanwhile, he spent four years in the U.S. Army as an infantry officer and served in Desert Storm. He earned a Bronze Star and a Combat Infantry badge.
In 1992, Buie joined the FBI. He began in the Colorado Springs resident agency of the Denver Field Office — and he said he would proudly wear his Chicago Bulls gear when Michael Jordan came to town.
From there, Buie continued to move up the FBI ranks. In 2002, he became the senior supervisory resident agent at the Fairview Heights resident agency of the FBI field office in Springfield. Finally, in 2017, he became special agent in charge of the field office in El Paso, Texas, where he led the agency’s investigation into this summer’s deadly mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart.
However, Buie’s Chicago background sets him apart from his recent predecessors. Speaking to the Sun-Times, Buie recalled living first on the West Side and then moving to 73rd and Sangamon and later to 63rd and Aberdeen.
“The beauty of it was, growing up in a neighborhood as I did in the Englewood district, all the kids played together so it didn’t matter your age,” Buie said. “The younger kids were mentored by the older kids, and the older kids kind of taught you how to do things. So that was good. It was fun.”
Still, that’s “not to say that bad things weren’t occurring around me,” Buie said. He said he remembers “very vividly, you know, the explosion of the gangs coming back into Chicago,” and how gang lines divided his neighborhood. He said he was fortunate not to be consumed by such forces. He also said his mother “is my hero” — raising multiple children as a single parent while also going back to school to become a registered nurse.
Having grown up in the neighborhoods, Buie said combating street violence will “of course” be “near and dear to me.” But beyond investigations and prosecutions, Buie said he hopes to share his story with the youth of today’s Chicago.
“My upbringing in Chicago, I look at it as a plus, not a negative,” Buie said. “And I will always look at it in that light.”
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