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Aldermen bemoan ongoing bloodbath on Chicago streets, but shoot down National Guard proposal

It wasn’t the cost ($54 million) that prompted the 16-to-2 vote by the Committee on Public Safety. It was the stigma of a “military occupation” of Chicago neighborhoods and how that could make things worse.

Members of the Illinois National Guard keep watch and direct traffic at their post outside McCormick Place near East 24th Place and South King Drive, Wednesday afternoon, June 3, 2020.
Members of the Illinois National Guard keep watch and direct traffic at their post outside McCormick Place in June, after the city’s first round of looting in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Chicago aldermen on Tuesday bemoaned the continuing bloodbath that’s killing and maiming the city’s children, but nevertheless shot down a request to declare a state of emergency that would have paved the way for a four-month stint by the Illinois National Guard.

It wasn’t the $54 million price tag that prompted the 16-to-2 vote by the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety.

It was the stigma of a “military occupation” of Chicago neighborhoods and how that would undermine efforts to repair the trust between citizens and police in African American neighborhoods — a trust shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald long before the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Former Public Safety Committee Chairman Ariel Reboyras (30th) also was moved by the limitations on the National Guard. They can help create roadblocks and staff checkpoints, but only with on-site assistance from Chicago Police officers, now exhausted from working 12-hour days. Citizen soldiers are not allowed to arrest or detain anyone.

“Our officers are tired. I feel it. I see it. And I talk about this every day. [But], the National Guard is gonna stand up there and he or she will act as a scarecrow. … I hate to say it that way. But it’s the truth. Because they really can’t do what we want them to do,” Reboyras said.

“Do we want to deploy young folks out there and engage them in a shooting battle? Because that’s what’s gonna happen. I don’t think so. The Guard, in my opinion, is not trained to deal with de-escalation issues or crisis matters as they appear to me.”

North Side Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), the committee’s vice-chairman, acknowledged the resolution championed by four aldermen — Leslie Hairston (5th); Anthony Beale (9th); Ray Lopez (15th) and Anthony Napolitano (41st) — was “borne out of the frustration that all of us share. … None of us feel good about where we are on the safety side.”

But Osterman said the fundamental question is whether the National Guard would be “more detrimental” than helpful because of its lack of training in police work.

“The way that it was described is an occupation. And having Chicagoans have to go through checkpoints — we have to think about the impact on those communities and what that does for people young and old,” Osterman said.

North Side Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) acknowledged Chicago is “in a crisis” right now, adding: “It is horrible what is going now in so many neighborhoods and a lot of people are afraid.” But she warned of the “potential consequences” of unleashing a “military presence on street crime.”

“It is always easy to say, `Bring in the Guard,’ when thing are going bad. But, things can get worse. … You’ll next say, `If it’ll save one life, we should do it.’ Well, experience shows that it can cause many more deaths and harm,” Smith said.

Lopez said he was “shocked” his colleagues are “still talking about having patience for the perfect solution” to the “slow-drip massacre” on Chicago streets.

As of Tuesday, there had been 526 homicides in Chicago this year, and an 8-year-old girl fatally shot Monday is the sixth child 10 or younger murdered in Chicago since late June, according to Chicago Sun-Times data.

“You don’t like the National Guard? Fine. But declare the state of emergency. “Declare and say it loud that our children, our city is under siege,” Lopez said.

“We talk about occupations. We talk about stigmatization. Look around you. Look at our neighborhoods where people are literally being pushed back into their homes by gang bangers who think that they run the streets and police who are overwhelmed trying to address them.”

Napolitano has served the city as both a police officers and a firefighter. His Far Northwest Side ward is home to scores of Chicago cops. He joined Lopez as the only “yes” votes.

The alderman kept his argument brief, saying, “I know where this is all going.” But he argued the never-ending cycle of gang violence is “eating away at our city, little by little” and must stop.

Lightfoot strongly opposes calling out the Guard, pointing to the 1970 National Guard shooting at Kent State University that had a profound effect on her while growing up in Ohio. It left four students dead and nine people injured.

Brown has been equally adamant.

He has argued the National Guard “trains for matters of national security, natural disaster and major upheaval,” but few guardsmen “have any experience policing civilians or dealing with the violent crime we face in Chicago.”

“I firmly believe that Chicago needs to solve its own problems,” the superintendent told aldermen last week.