When the Police Fail, Then What?
Chicago politicians tell The Root why they called for the National Guard, despite the sad history linked to previous calls.
"National Guard troops patrolled the streets of Chicago's Negro West Side last night and early today. For the first time in four nights there was no major violence in the riot-torn ghetto area."
That was the first paragraph of a New York Times article that ran on Saturday, July 16, 1966.
If Illinois state representatives John Fritchey (D-District 11) and LaShawn Ford (D-District 8) have their way, the scene could soon be ripped from today's headlines, of course with different language and different circumstances.
Fritchey and Ford called on Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Mayor Richard M. Daley and Chicago police superintendent Jody Weis to deploy the National Guard to patrol parts of the South and West Sides because violence is convulsing the streets of some neighborhoods.
The representatives made the call on April 26, five days after 2-year-old Cynia Cole was caught in the cross hairs of a gang shootout on Chicago's South Side. The bullet had Cynia's father's name on it, fired by a rival gang member, the police said. Instead, it pierced her head as they sat in a parked vehicle. A 21-year-old man was charged with first-degree murder in Cynia's death, the police said.
Her death and the call for the National Guard unleashed a firestorm of controversy across the nation. Both came at a time when the city's death toll was 113, which was higher than the number troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since the beginning of the year, Fritchey said. But as of May 18, the city's death count had reached 141, compared to 151 troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since the beginning of the year, he said.
Officials have been cool to the idea, but Mayor Daley has not ruled it out. Superintendent Weis flat out rejected it, saying the police department could handle the job. He said there is a perception of rising violence because of a recent spike.
"While the public perception is that violence has increased to unprecedented levels, the facts do not support that conclusion,'' Lt. Maureen Biggane said. "Through April 2010, overall crime is down 6.9 percent, and violent crime is down 11 percent when compared to the same time last year.''
Still, some community leaders and residents support the idea of calling in the National Guard, Ford said to The Root. He read aloud an e-mail that he received on Tuesday, May 18: "Before I heard about the arrest of 16 students at Bogan High School [on Tuesday, May 18, for fighting], I didn't support your idea of bringing in the National Guard,'' Ford read. "Now, I do.''
But John Timoney, the former hard-nosed police chief of Miami and police commissioner of Philadelphia, who rose through the ranks of the New York Police Department over 29 years to become first deputy commissioner under William J. Bratton, told The Root that the idea was "stupid'' and dangerous.
"The National Guard is trained to kill,'' Timoney said. "The police are trained to use deadly force as a last resort. They try to disengage and deescalate a situation. The National Guard is not going to come to patrol the streets of Chicago; they are going to shoot people. Their mission is completely incongruous with that of what the police do. If you have any questions, look at Kent State.''
At Kent State on May 4, 1970, members of the Ohio National Guard killed four unarmed, college-student, war protesters.
Timoney said calling the National Guard is synonymous with the police washing their hands of the problem. All that's required, he said, is hard-core detective work to get at the root causes, which usually are drug gangs and illegal firearms. He should know. While coming under criticism for his management style over the years, he knows police work. He reduced homicides from 70 to 62 annually in Miami by the time he left and from about 420 to 292 in Philadelphia, he said.