They Call It the Guard, so Let It Guard Our Streets and Neighborhoods

August 30, 1992|By GREGORY P. KANE

Bring on the National Guard! Let National Guard units patrol the streets of Baltimore to assist the police in stopping street-level drug dealing and violence.

Mind you, I intend no disrespect to those who have pooh-poohed the idea; who have suggested that the notion of National Guard patrols is unwarranted, motivated by panic or frustration and might possibly lead to violations of civil liberties. I intend no disrespect to those who say that the solution to the shoot-outs that have caught far too many children in the crossfire is more block-watch programs, community involvement and a quick call to the local police precinct so the friendly neighborhood cop can come pick up the sinister neighborhood drug dealer.

That solution might work in the world where Ward, June, Wally and the Beave live. In the real world, it has several shortcomings.

* The courts are already overloaded with drug cases. The backlog of cases is enormous. The jails are full. Prosecutors and judges are hard-pressed to try the cases they have now.

* The criminal justice system seems woefully incapable of keeping chronic miscreants behind bars. When 3-year-old Andre Dorsey was killed in a crossfire earlier this summer, Mayor Schmoke suggested that community apathy was to blame. A police officer was heard on a local newscast saying that since the accused in the shooting was a known troublemaker, someone should have called a cop. A perusal of a Sunpapers article on the incident revealed that the accused was no stranger to the criminal justice system. If no one called police to arrest him, it's because no one had any reason to believe he wouldn't be out on the streets the next day.

But there you have an example of the reasoning powers used by city and state political leaders. They really believe that the criminal justice system operates with the smooth efficiency of an ant colony. Their perspective on the situation betrays their myopia. Some stray bullets of the type that cut down Andre Dorsey wedged snugly in their hindquarters might improve their vision.

How then, can National Guard units patrolling city streets improve the situation? Let us count the ways:

* National Guard units could instill a sense of fairness. Usually the Guard is called out during riots or civil disorders. In fact, when affluent whites feel that their lives and property are threatened, political leaders can't get the Guard on the streets fast enough. For once in our history, let's put National Guard units on the streets to protect poor black people.

* The National Guard could help deter violence among street-level dealers. In some neighborhoods you can hear gunshots on a nightly basis. Street-level dealers need to know that there is a force ready to apprehend them quickly and ferret them out of hiding if necessary, should they decide to engage in any gunplay. Let's put the Guard on the streets before the violence gets any worse. Those who oppose doing so simply underestimate the level of violence in our society. We may not be Northern Ireland or Bosnia or Lebanon. But we ain't Switzerland, either.

* The National Guard can harass, intimidate, stake out and arrest street-level dealers, leaving police and prosecutors free to investigate, harass, intimidate, stake out and arrest importer-wholesaler drug dealers, who make the most money from the business but do the least time in jail.

* The National Guard can help relieve the burden on the court system. Rather than keep packing the jails with small-time dealers and users and burdening the court system even more, let's have the Guard supervise them. One project comes immediately to mind. Some areas of the city are filthy. Let's have drug offenders clean it up, supervised by the Guard. No longer should we just give offenders probation. We should give them probation and a push broom.

* The National Guard would be a legal, viable alternative to the vigilantism that is sure to occur if the violence endemic to street-level drug dealing continues. I, personally, am opposed to vigilante action, either individually or by a mob. Vigilantism is the antithesis of due process -- for which I have a passion -- and is a mere stutter-step from lynch law.

But the vast majority of people in drug- and crime-infested areas are law abiding citizens. I suspect it is only a matter of time before some thug, drug dealer or trigger-happy idiot cuts down another child and then the law-abiding citizens respond in kind.

For the drug dealers' sake, I hope that the law-abiding citizens don't take a notion to read the history of vigilantism in America. They will find that whatever else vigilantism did or did not do, it usually produced the desired results.

Black drug dealers should especially beware. American blacks might start digging into their history and discover that crime was dealt with quite harshly in traditional African societies. Even slaves who made it to the New World and escaped slavery to form the independent, self-sufficient societies called maroons had no truck with criminals. Crimes in maroon societies, according to one historian, ''were relatively few.'' For good reason. ''If a man committed any crime,'' the same historian also notes, ''he was instantly shot to death.''

Let's humor those of us who who still cling to the delusion that we are entitled to safe neighborhoods. The National Guard has that name for a reason. State and local leaders should let it guard us.

Gregory P. Kane is a Baltimore free lance.

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