Back in April 1968, I lived through the deployment of National Guard troops in my neighborhood. The troops were called in during the riots following the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parts of the city were in flames and looting and shooting were th
Back in April 1968, I lived through the deployment of National Guard troops in my neighborhood.
The troops were called in during the riots following the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parts of the city were in flames and looting and shooting were the order of the day and night.
The troops restored order. There was hardly any crime committed while they were on the streets and in the schools. They stopped the violence, stopped the looting and stopped the fires.
But they weren’t cheered. They were armed young men, carrying their automatic military-issue weapons at the ready. They weren’t trained to ask questionsj; they were trained to restore and maintain order. They shot first, asked questions later. They did not want to hear any explanations, however credible, for why you were on the streets. They just wanted the streets clear. They didn’t check to see if you were law-abiding or a criminal. For them, EVERYONE was a criminal.
I was forced to reminisce upon those halcyon days of my youth when Gov. Rod Blagojevich offered to send state police and the National Guard to the city of Chicago to help stem the tide of violent crime that is plaguing the city. Gov. Blagojevich said that crime in the city was “out of control,” and he offered his assistance in dealing with it.
Thanks, but no thanks, Gov. Rod.
Though I have yet to develop an overwhelming confidence in the Chicago Police Department to deal with violent crime in the city, and especially in some of our neighborhoods where it has become rampant, I have even less confidence in Gov. Rod.
I’m sure the state police is a fine crime-fighting group, and it has successfully assisted the Chicago Police Department in the past. I have no such confidence in the National Guard.
I know that some of our neighborhoods have become battle zones, with warring gangs spraying bullets all over the place in some misguided attempt to hold onto some turf, or to avenge some alleged slight or dis. I know that some of the law-abiding residents feel that they are in a war zone and hide out in their homes waiting for a lull in the gunfire.
But I also know that infusing the National Guard into such a scenario doesn’t produce safety. It only produces a police state, where individual rights and freedom are sacrificed in order to keep order. Yes, and the trains will run on time.
These are young people, now men AND women, who have been trained to fight in a war zone. Yes, they also have been used to assist in catastrophes around the nation, helping build sandbag dams in Iowa and rescue citizens in other areas. The National Guard is a wonderful part of our armed forces and in many ways is very helpful.
But they are woefully miscast when it comes to crime fighting. Military uniforms’ patrolling our streets is an extreme and provocative step. Will the troops engage in search and destroy missions in the community? Will they hunt down gang bangers, going doorto- door to find them, weapons drawn? Will they lock down the schools where gangs recruit, meet, plan and often fight? Will they interrogate citizens about their knowledge of gang activity? Will civil liberties be the first casualty of this stepped up assault on violent crime, much as they have in the stepped up assault on terror in this country?
But even before we get the first camouflaged uniform on the streets, I’m interested to know what prompted Gov. Rod to make the offer.
I mean, Gov. Rod, while he makes it into the city quite often, usually to attend Cubs games (and he did drop in on the retirement celebration for Bishop Arthur Brazier last week), doesn’t spend a lot of time in the ‘hood. He has been busy with other duties, of course, trying to get a budget passed and all.
But I didn’t hear from Gov. Rod last year, when Chicago Public Schools students were being gunned down an average of one a week. I didn’t hear him offer assistance when Nailah Franklin was killed or when a gunman killed five people in a suburban Lane Bryant store.
Maybe it was the violence that took place at the Taste of Chicago that got his notice. It is scary to think that crime has to come downtown for the governor to notice it.
Maybe he is just trying to embarrass Mayor Richard M. Daley. If he really wanted to offer help to the city, a phone call to the mayor might have been the proper protocol rather than blurt out his offer of help at a news conference on another subject. Call me a cynic, but I’m thinking if he really wanted to help, he’d pass a budget so we could have some summer job programs and other community projects funded.
Lou Ransom is executive editor of the Chicago Defender. He can be reached via e-mail at lransom@ chicagodefender.com.
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