Buffalo needs Military Occupation
This week the Buffalo News reported that a 3-year-old boy was shot while riding his tricycle in front of his house. The bullet was intended for a 14 year old. This is 2014, in Buffalo.
We could spend all week talking about whose fault it is, but for brevities sake, the short list would be guns, Hollywood, poverty, underfunding, and drugs. But here’s the issue. If we regulate guns, regulate Hollywood, pump money into the area and make drugs more illegal, are we going to solve the problem? Not even the strongest proponents of these “causes” think we will.
I’ve been in a few places under military occupation. In particular, in Southern Saudi Arabia after Ronald Reagan bombed Libya, in Thailand during a military coup in the 80s and in Medellin, Colombia several times in the last ten years.
It might surprise you to know that military coups are rarely unpopular. In fact, peace-loving middle class people are their biggest fans because most coups are built on frustration. In Pakistan, it was unrelenting corruption of the political system. In Thailand, it was the same. In Saudi Arabia it was an overreaction. The Saudi on the street hated Libya’s dictator Gadaffi. But the one most similar to Buffalo was Colombia and its rampant violence.
We like to think that America was founded on freedom and democracy, and in many ways this is true, but what freedom does a 19-year-old mother on welfare with a 3-year-old in the emergency room with gunshot wounds have?
Colombia, in the 80s and 90s, was the most violent place on earth. Politicians wore flak jackets. Kidnapping was an epidemic. My old friend Kristof, a Swiss national, was head hostage negotiator with the International Red Cross in Bogota. I had dinner with him in 2008 in a restaurant in Rosales, where most of Colombia’s upper class lives.There, he told me story after story of children being whisked away by “freedom fighters’ never to be seen again.
When your relatives are kidnapped and killed, your perspective changes. In the case of Colombia, it was President Álvaro Uribe, a Harvard grad, whose parents were killed by FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). He instituted draconian police methods that in Buffalo would be unthinkable. The highway between the airport and Medellin had random military checkpoints. Seemingly every street corner had a soldier carrying an M-16. The subway had soldiers literally all over.
What was interesting to me, as a former Marine, was that the soldiers didn’t have bullets. I know the difference between a loaded M-16 and an unloaded one. But it worked. The mere presence of authority cut down violence. It didn’t eliminate it. Kristof still had a job. My friend Steve was in a popular café when a “freedom fighter” tossed a hand grenade in the front door. The front gate of the U.S. embassy was hit. But crime went down fast and was marginalized to the countryside. The streets are now safe to walk.
One of my favorite places on earth is the Parque de Bolivar in Medellin. It was uptown Medellin in the 40s and now it’s a bustling old city, much like the Blackrock area of Buffalo. You might say Parque de Bolivar is Medellin’s Delaware Park. It looks like a neighborhood from a Bogart movie, where your greatest pleasure comes from just sitting there with a beer and watching the people. Well, I consider myself a fairly brave traveler, but I wouldn’t have dreamed of going there 15 years ago. The same people who used to live there still live there. The difference? Soldiers.
I fully realize that few people in America are ready for this, but I guarantee its coming and when it comes, you’ll be glad. Freedom of speech and the right to vote don’t mean a hill of beans in the emergency room at ECMC. Nonviolent people don’t need laws and people that kill don’t care about them. They learned this the hard way in Colombia.
Or my own part, I love Buffalo. I’ve been to over thirty countries and I’ll tell you first hand, Buffalo has some of the nicest, friendliest, most helpful people on earth. There’ll come a day when we get fed up with violence. We’ll stop babbling about the problem and decide to solve it. We’ll realize that fighting each other’s political side is a waste of time. When that day comes, the mayor may very well be a retired general.
Paul Schwartzmeyer is the author of To Sharazad, Where ever you are. Available on Amazon.com, and the upcoming spy novel, 39 Down, which will be available on June 15th.