Too much crime? Bring in the Marines

Robert Maranto

October 08, 1993|By Robert Maranto

WITH schoolchildren packing guns, Miami teen-agers hunting tourists and vast sections of our cities out-of-bounds for the wary, urban crime is again in the news and on the lips of some of our brain-dead politicians.

Yet few critics put themselves in the shoes of the young people committing the violence. Because of this, we fail to realize the fundamental problem: In many of our inner cities there is no government.

A highly expensive public payroll provides police, courts, jails, schools, social welfare agencies and all the rest. But none of these protects the people of the inner cities.

Think about it: The first duty of a government is to protect its citizens. But in many of our cities, for many of our people, there simply is no government. The police drive by now and then, but they don't protect people. Since they don't know the community, they can't even tell the good guys from the bad.

If police do make an arrest, the perpetrator is out in days or months even if a serious crime has been committed, especially if the criminal is a juvenile. Many young killers in the news today already have had 40 or 50 contacts with the "criminal justice" system. Some have committed several previous homicides, but as long as they kill only young black males like themselves rather than middle-class people who matter, no one much cares.

There is a way to take back our cities and begin to rebuild government. During the Los Angeles riots, a battalion of U.S. Marines was deployed to maintain order in one neighborhood, with remarkable success.

Unlike the police, the Marines did not know that the job couldn't be done. Marines don't work eight-hour days. They have no union rules. They live where they are deployed, not out in the suburbs, and they often come from race and class backgrounds like those in the neighborhoods. They get to know the people in their areas.

The Cold War is over. With no clear international threat, it is time to turn our efforts to the war at home. We now have available great numbers of soldiers, far greater than the numbers of police.

Why not use troops where they are needed most -- to protect American lives and properties in the cities? If middle-class neighborhoods were threatened by the crime ravaging inner cities, wouldn't we be quick to send in the Marines?

Some argue that troops would become an occupying force like the British in Northern Ireland. This is wrong on two counts. First, troops should only be deployed with the support of local elected officials and where neighborhood votes confirm public backing.

More important, even in the worst American ghettoes more people yearn for law and order than want to commit mayhem. Even among black males, the vast majority have never done time in prison. These people represent an anti-crime constituency ready to be organized.

Back in the 1920s the Black Hand (Mafia) tried to get a foothold in Baltimore. In other cities, local authorities looked the other way. After all, it was just Italians killing other Italians. But in Baltimore, Mayor William F. Broening organized the Italian-American community, deputizing my grandfather and hundreds of others so they could carry guns to protect themselves.

When the Black Hand came "asking" for protection money, my grandfather paid them a little, but also showed them his badge and his gun and said, "If you come back, it's you or me." After a few months and a few shootouts, the Black Hand went back to Philadelphia, where the authorities were more compliant.

But that was the 1920s.

It seems to me that we have forgotten what Mayor Broening knew, that all Americans regardless of color or accent want a government that will protect them, and they will support politicians who give them one. Where are those politicians?

A former resident of Baltimore, Robert Maranto is an assistant professor of government and law at Lafayette College.

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