Chicago Tribune – by Lolly Bowean, Chicago Tribune reporter
To reduce the homicides and shootings plaguing Chicago streets, elected officials should consider calling on the state and federal governments for help, even the National Guard if necessary, said a retired Army lieutenant general who spearheaded the military response after Hurricane Katrina.
“Just like we do with any disaster. When the tornado comes, or the floods come, the federal government comes in to help,” Russel L. Honore said Thursday at a news conference in Chicago.
“Let’s not let this be about pride. ‘We are big ol’ Chicago, we are too proud, we can handle this.’ Maybe you can’t handle it. If you need help, get the federal government here. But let’s control the streets so children and elderly people can be in a safe community.”
Honore, known for his no-nonsense leadership, was in Chicago as part of The HistoryMakers project to record and archive the stories of African-American military leaders. The nonprofit organization houses the largest collection of recorded histories of African-Americans.
As part of his visit, Honore met with high school students to discuss his career.
At the news conference at the Chicago Military Academy in the Bronzeville neighborhood, Honore spoke out against the gun violence that affects the lives of so many of the students.
Honore was mild in his tone and fell short of demanding action. Instead he suggested a strategy he thinks could work.
To tackle the violence here, Honore said, the state police and other law enforcement agencies could lend a hand to local police. And the National Guard could take over routine duties, patrolling the streets and handling traffic, while police concentrate their efforts on solving crimes and increasing their presence in troubled neighborhoods.
Last year, Chicago homicides exceeded 500 for the first time since 2008, a 16 percent jump from 2011. And January saw the most homicides for that month since 2002. In addition, the shooting death of Hadiya Pendleton has placed an international spotlight on the random violence in Chicago because the 15-year-old honors student with so much promise was killed less than a mile from President Barack Obama’s home.
To reduce the violence, more attention needs to be paid to poor communities infested with drugs, Honore said.
“Trust me, we can tap this down,” Honore said of the shootings. “It would take a commitment, and it’s not going to be popular. Many people are going to say why are you bringing that to my community? (But) do you want law enforcement or do you want people shooting day and night and destroying the lives of innocent people like the little girl who lost her life here a few weeks ago?”
Rondell Freeman, a 17-year-old junior at Prologue Early College High School who was among the students to hear Honore’s remarks, said he feels afraid on the streets or even visiting the local park in his Garfield Park community. Honore’s suggestion to bring in state police and National Guard seems radical, but it may be necessary, he said.
“We should do whatever it takes to end the violence, so we won’t have to feel scared,” he said. “These kids have guns. We need experienced people that can stop them.”
When he’s not working as a Chicago police officer, Richard Wooten said he’s in the neighborhoods — Auburn Gresham, West Chesterfield and Chatham — helping residents develop neighborhood watch groups.
“Crime in Chicago is just running rampant,” said Wooten, who does community work as part of his own organization, the Gathering Point Community Council. He attended Honore’s news conference.
“This is going to require more than just the Chicago Police Department,” he said. “We are in a state right now where we need not only to get the community activated and mobilized and dealing with the issues in their community, but somewhere along the way, we’re going to have to tap into some federal funding.”