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National Guard Won’t Cure Chicago Violence, Lightfoot Says: ‘It Can Go Disastrously Wrong’

A small group of aldermen have said they want the troops to be used to stop violent crime, which has surged this summer.

Members of the National Guard occupy the corner of Division and Wells streets in the Old Town neighborhood during a peaceful protest on June 2, 2020 in reaction to the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot will fight attempts to bring the National Guard to Chicago, she signaled Friday as a small group of aldermen pushed for troops to come to the city.

A handful of aldermen forced a special City Council meeting Friday where they hoped to vote on a resolution that would have called for members of the National Guard to come to the city. The resolution would have also asked Gov. JB Pritzker to declare a state of emergency in Chicago due to looting and violence in recent months.

Aldermen did not end up voting on the resolution, instead pushing it to a committee meeting.

Lightfoot, speaking at a press conference after the meeting, said aldermen should have a “fulsome” debate around the issue. But they should also keep in mind the National Guard is a military force — and it “isn’t the right tool for the moment,” she said.

“… The National Guard has a very different set of training, very different perspective on force,” Lightfoot said. “They’re military. They are told, ‘If there’s a conflict, put down the conflict, and use all means possible to do so.'”

Lightfoot said she grew up in Ohio, “just down the road from Kent State.” When she was about 7 years old, National Guardsmen infamously shot and killed four students and wounded nine others at the university amid demonstrations over the Vietnam War.

That “environment … didn’t require that kind of force,” Lightfoot said, adding the memory of that shooting is “deeply embedded” in her and informs her thinking about how the National Guard is used now.

Pritzker did send the National Guard to Chicago in early June with Lightfoot’s agreement.

But the troops were used to lock down the Downtown area amid looting and unrest, not patrol the city. Lightfoot said she looked at how other major cities used National Guard troops at the time and saw “disastrous consequences.”

And since then, the city has made “substantial strides in making sure we have deployments of our police in areas where we are challenged most by violence,” Lightfoot said. The city is also working with the county Sheriff’s Office and state police to bring down violent crime.

Aldermen in support of the measure have said they want the troops to be used to stop violent crime, which has surged this summer.

The mayor, like Rahm Emanuel before her, has long pushed back against attempts to bring in the National Guard to deal with violence in Chicago. President Donald Trump has repeatedly said the “feds” should be sent to the city.

And Chicago has had a rocky relationship with the force in the past, with the presence of the National Guard enflaming tensions in the city.

The National Guard and Chicago Police Department took part in violent clashes against protesting laborers during 1877’s “Battle of the Viaduct,” leaving 30 workers dead and 100 wounded. A few years later, Guardsmen fired into a crowd of people, killing four, during the 1894 Pullman Strike. 

RELATED: Can The National Guard Really Stop Chicago’s Violence?

More recently, after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the National Guard was called in to quell riots, particularly on the West Side, where they were seen as an occupying force.

Later in 1968, the National Guard was called in to help with the Democratic National Convention. The convention famously saw protesters pitted against police and Guardsmen in violent clashes.

The National Guard is not the “panacea” some seem to think it is, Lightfoot said.

“If it’s not deployed in the right way, it can go disastrously wrong,” she said. “We’re gonna have this debate, and it’s an important one to have, but I think we have to have it in the context of, ‘What is it that we need to keep our residents safe?'”

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