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On guard: Can state troops stop the violence in Chicago neighborhoods?

As outdoor temperatures in Chicago begin the climb out of the long, cold of winter, another weather-related trend re-emerged: gun-related violent crimes on city streets. During the third weekend of April, when temperatures reached 80 degrees, “a series of unrelated shootings over a span of less than 12 hours claimed seven lives and left 18 people wounded,” National Public Radio reported. “Last weekend, it was the death of a 2-year-old, shot and killed while sitting in a car with her father and siblings, that captured headlines in the city. Following the surge in gun violence, two state lawmakers from Chicago are calling on Gov. Pat Quinn to call up the National Guard to help Chicago police keep the streets safe.”

Two Democratic State Representatives, John Fritchey and LaShawn Ford, are concerned by Chicago’s 113 homicides so far this year. That total, they say, equals the number of U.S. military deaths in Iran and Afghanistan over the same period. “”e have another war that is just as deadly that is taking place right in our backyard,” Fritchey said. “Is this a drastic call to action? Of course it is,” he continued. “Is it warranted when we are losing residents to gun violence at such an alarming rate? Without question.” ritchey says he’s not “talking about rolling tanks down the street or having armed guards on each corner,” but instead, having a “heightened presence on the streets.”

Governor Quinn said he won’t send Illinois National Guard troops to Chicago unless Mayor Daley wants them. So far, Daley isn’t endorsing the National Guard idea. The mayor says he knows many city residents are upset about the gun violence. “Everybody knows there’s frustration,” he said. “And so you have to look for long-term solutions. There’s no quick Band-Aid. You just can’t think you’re going to fix it in one weekend and walk away.”

A Chicago Sun-Times editorial said, “Fritchey and Ford deserve credit for calling attention to an urgent situation. But Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis was right, too, when he said the National Guard isn’t the answer.” Daley and Weis, for some time, have both expressed frustration over the “code of silence” in many crime-plagued neighborhoods that keep victims and witnesses from coming forward to provide police with incriminating information.

The Chicago Tribune also wrote that, “Chicago’s homicide rate is roughly double that of Los Angeles and triple that of New York. Nearly 1,000 Chicagoans were slain over the last two years, including 129 before their 18th birthday.”

The call for the National Guard also drew comment on CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s AC360 blog. Writer Maureen Miller interviewed Chicago community activist Victor Woods, who says he’s against the Guard proposal. He’s says a “huge mistrust” problem with the Chicago Police Department must change in order for the violence to stop. “Police are gonna have to take off their guns and vests and regain the trust of the communities,” he told Miller.

Woods points to a shooting on April 12, when Robert Tate, 17, was shot in the chest on the West Side. “As he lay bleeding on the street a police officer asked him [if] he knew who shot him,” Miller wrote. “Tate said, ‘I’m not telling you.’ Tate, who ironically was nicknamed ‘C Murder,’ took his secret to the grave.”

Chicago police officers, as in other big cities, have a problem with people refusing to give them information. Witnesses don’t want to snitch. In February, the Chicago Police Department started a campaign called “Silence Kills.” TV and prints ads carry the message: “Stop the violence. Stop the Violence. Silence Kills.” They’re encouraging people to send confidential text messages that can’t be traced.

South Side Alderman Freddrenna Lyle (6th Ward) has linked the violence to changing demographics, suggesting that the relocation of Chicago Housing Authority residents to some neighborhoods is a cause. She sees an influx of unsupervised teens moving into her ward. She told Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell, “I don’t have a Boys Club or Girl’s Club. No YMCA or YWCA. CHA has put thousands of people out, and most of them have moved to communities of color. They didn’t track them. They don’t know who came back from the penitentiary and moved in with their mother or their girlfriend,” she said.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, in a Huffington Post commentary, said, “We have a plan for security and development in Iraq and Afghanistan. We also had a plan to salvage Wall Street. Why not a plan for Chicago?” One blogger put it another way: “Kids of Chicago, you are soldiers fighting the wrong war. … Stop killing each other and bring back sanity and civility to your city.”

What do you think are the major reasons behind the surge in violence? With whom does most of the responsibility lie in ending Chicago’s street violence? What are some solutions for dealing with the problem? Can the National Guard, or even the police, really stop the violence? Why are some urban neighborhoods more prone to gun violence than others? In ways can residents of crime-plagued neighborhoods stand up against gun violence where they live? Why is the “code of silence” so strong in areas experiencing violence?

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