On Point: The War in Chicago?

by Austin Bay
April 27, 2010

Call out the National Guard to stop urban gangs?

Two Illinois state representatives, John Fritchey andLaShawn Ford (both Democrats), want Land of Lincoln Guardsmen in the streets ofChicago.

Fritchey's molten rhetoric provides the sketch: "As wespeak, National Guard members are working side-by-side with our troops to fighta war halfway around the world. ... We have another war that is just as deadlytaking place right in our backyard."

Fritchey's first glitch is rather revealing: National Guardservicemen and women are troops, and definitely our troops -- a reserve oftrained soldiers able to fight in their own units or augment U.S. regularforces. 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 Chicagoneighborhood can establish "presence" -- and presence can serve a deterrentfunction. A policeman on a beat establishes presence. Here's the concept: Whenthe cop drives by or stands on the corner, rational thugs scatter and look foreasier targets.

However, unlike experienced street policemen who knowneighborhoods and are trained to defuse conflicts and arrest criminals,20-year-old riflemen --whether National Guard or Regular Army -- are trained toshoot to kill. Military Police (MPs) are a hybrid, but MPs are also first andforemost combat soldiers.

Consider these questions and the operational issues theyraise: What will be the rules regarding use of force guiding these youngAmerican soldiers as they patrol your city? Do you intend to provide thesoldiers with ammunition? In domestic situations, the Guard has deployedsoldiers without ammunition, to avoid the use of lethal force, though this isincreasingly rare post-9-11 (besides, soldiers without ammo can be robbed oftheir military equipment by gang members). Or do you intend to really lock downthe city and declare martial law (since we hear rumors that some gangs haveassault rifles)?

Will there be special vehicle and pedestrian checkpointprocedures, 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 vehicleentering threatened neighborhoods? Do you intend to give the soldiers crashcourses in arrest procedures, or the gathering and protection of evidence?

And back to the gangs: Have you thought at all about howlocal gangs might react? The presence of armed soldiers may inhibit somecrimes, but up-and-coming gang leaders seeking macho street cred may seesoldiers as enticing targets guaranteeing big headlines. Unlike the Chicagocops, the Guard won't be around forever -- unless Fritchy and Ford want apermanent garrison force.

Guard units are trained to handle a range of assignments.Supporting and augmenting local police forces in crises like natural disastersor riots are Guard missions.

Do Chicago police face a crisis of violence, or is this acase of rhetorical overreach and grandstanding?

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, local activist TioHardiman sees real problems, but he doesn't see a crisis. Hardiman runs afascinating political outfit named CeaseFire Illinois, which "brokerstruces" in gang-plagued neighborhoods.

"Every year we struggle with March and April. There's aspike (in violence) when the first hot days come," Hardiman told thepaper. He also noted violence in Chicago has dropped over the last couple ofdecades and added, "Right now, what is lacking in the city is that peopleinvolved in violence prevention need to collaborate better."

His comment suggests the problem is ineffective localleadership, especially in the districts experiencing a spike in violent crime.In this light, calling for the National Guard is a request for stateintervention. A cynic might conclude it's a way to get state taxpayers to footChicago's police bill. 

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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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