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Call Out the Guard to Put the Lid on L.A. Crime : Public safety: How many people must die before we confront this crisis?

<i> Errol Smith, chairman of New Vision Business Council of Southern California, is Los Angeles' only African-American host of a daily talk show (KIEV, 870 AM). </i>

How concerned are we about crime here in Los Angeles? Concerned enough that some of us are afraid to drive, afraid to use automatic tellers after dark, afraid to send our children to school or to let them walk the streets alone.

Some of us are so afraid that we lock ourselves in our homes at night and become virtual prisoners there until sunrise. Others, normally law-abiding citizens, have chosen to carry concealed weapons illegally.

Some of us are so afraid that we’ve decided to pack up our children, our homes, our businesses and move away in record numbers.

We were concerned enough about crime that, although we are a city of liberal tastes, we elected a Republican mayor on the notion that he’s tough enough to turn L.A. around.

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Then came the coup de grace from one of the most liberal city councilmen in Los Angeles--Zev Yaroslavksy, who recently suggested bringing in the National Guard or the Army to assist in providing greater security to our community.

Now, most politically savvy people say that this idea would never fly. But last Thursday, on my 3 p.m. talk-radio program, I asked a perhaps politically naive, yet germane question: Why not?

I got a sea of lights flashing across my board, as callers one after another voiced support for the notion of bringing in the “cavalry.” More surprising was the extraordinarily enthusiastic response from myriad callers residing in South-Central Los Angeles.

But why was I surprised? Who can deny that we have a security crisis here in Los Angeles?

How many people have to die before we acknowledge that we have a state of emergency--1,000 per year? 5,000 per year? 50,000? How many people have to leave, how many businesses here have to move, before we declare that it’s time for extraordinary measures?

Have we become so desensitized to carjackings, ATM holdups, drive-by shootings and marathon murder weekends that we are prepared to accept this as part of our “normal” urban experience?

Criminals now tote military assault weapons. Do we wait until they’re using plastic explosives and driving tanks before we take decisive action?

My question last Thursday was: Where do we draw the line?

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In some countries, it’s the norm to have armed military personnel on the street. I’m not proposing military occupation as the solution to our crisis, but I think that calling in the National Guard as an interim step would be a reasonable response that we should legitimately consider.

If you question this proposition, consider the facts: Nearly 1,000 people were killed in Los Angeles last year because of gang violence. Many of them were innocent children caught in the cross fire.

It is rapidly becoming evident that we lack the ability to hire, train and deploy enough police fast enough to stem this tidal wave of crime.

The perception of Los Angeles as an unsafe, crime-ridden city is hurting the economy of this entire region.

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Finally, we’ve reached a point where our children’s greatest anxieties no longer revolve around, “Will I make good grades?” but rather, “Will I make it to school and back safely?”

Our public-safety crisis demands extraordinary action. It’s time to bring in the National Guard as an interim step to reassure our neighbors, and all the residents of Los Angeles, that the city will be made safe.


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