by Austin Bay
April 27, 2010
Call out the National Guard to stop urban gangs?
Two Illinois state representatives, John Fritchey and
LaShawn Ford (both Democrats), want Land of Lincoln Guardsmen in the streets of
Fritchey's molten rhetoric provides the sketch: "As we
speak, National Guard members are working side-by-side with our troops to fight
a war halfway around the world. ... We have another war that is just as deadly
taking place right in our backyard."
Fritchey's first glitch is rather revealing: National Guard
servicemen and women are troops, and definitely our troops -- a reserve of
trained soldiers able to fight in their own units or augment U.S. regular
forces. His second glitch, conflating Afghan combat with Chicago street crime,
exceeds political hyperbole and enters the realm of blockheaded ignorance.
A National Guard squad rolling into an inner-city Chicago
neighborhood can establish "presence" -- and presence can serve a deterrent
function. A policeman on a beat establishes presence. Here's the concept: When
the cop drives by or stands on the corner, rational thugs scatter and look for
However, unlike experienced street policemen who know
neighborhoods and are trained to defuse conflicts and arrest criminals,
20-year-old riflemen --whether National Guard or Regular Army -- are trained to
shoot to kill. Military Police (MPs) are a hybrid, but MPs are also first and
foremost combat soldiers.
Consider these questions and the operational issues they
raise: What will be the rules regarding use of force guiding these young
American soldiers as they patrol your city? Do you intend to provide the
soldiers with ammunition? In domestic situations, the Guard has deployed
soldiers without ammunition, to avoid the use of lethal force, though this is
increasingly rare post-9-11 (besides, soldiers without ammo can be robbed of
their military equipment by gang members). Or do you intend to really lock down
the city and declare martial law (since we hear rumors that some gangs have
Will there be special vehicle and pedestrian checkpoint
procedures, or in the name of fairness and to pre-empt charges of profiling,
will the Guard be expected to stop and inspect every person and every vehicle
entering threatened neighborhoods? Do you intend to give the soldiers crash
courses in arrest procedures, or the gathering and protection of evidence?
And back to the gangs: Have you thought at all about how
local gangs might react? The presence of armed soldiers may inhibit some
crimes, but up-and-coming gang leaders seeking macho street cred may see
soldiers as enticing targets guaranteeing big headlines. Unlike the Chicago
cops, the Guard won't be around forever -- unless Fritchy and Ford want a
permanent garrison force.
Guard units are trained to handle a range of assignments.
Supporting and augmenting local police forces in crises like natural disasters
or riots are Guard missions.
Do Chicago police face a crisis of violence, or is this a
case of rhetorical overreach and grandstanding?
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, local activist Tio
Hardiman sees real problems, but he doesn't see a crisis. Hardiman runs a
fascinating political outfit named CeaseFire Illinois, which "brokers
truces" in gang-plagued neighborhoods.
"Every year we struggle with March and April. There's a
spike (in violence) when the first hot days come," Hardiman told the
paper. He also noted violence in Chicago has dropped over the last couple of
decades and added, "Right now, what is lacking in the city is that people
involved in violence prevention need to collaborate better."
His comment suggests the problem is ineffective local
leadership, especially in the districts experiencing a spike in violent crime.
In this light, calling for the National Guard is a request for state
intervention. A cynic might conclude it's a way to get state taxpayers to foot
Chicago's police bill.