Birmingham Councilor Suggests Calling in the Guard If Nothing Else Curbs Crime in the City

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Birmingham City Councilor Steven Hoyt (foreground). Councilor Crystal Smitherman is in the background.

Sam Prickett, BirminghamWatch

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By Sam Prickett

Birmingham City Councilor Steven Hoyt called on Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin Tuesday to change his strategies for fighting crime in Birmingham, even if it means calling in the National Guard.

Woodfin quickly shot down that idea, saying, “We will not be calling the National Guard,” and emphasized that most of the city’s homicides “are not random.”

“These are interactions between people who know each other,” he said.

Hoyt’s comments were sparked after a Monday night shooting in the city’s Belview Heights neighborhood left one man dead. The victim, 27-year-old Michael James Weeks, was the 60th reported homicide in Birmingham this year; seven of those homicides have since been ruled as justified.

That’s a marked increase from last year, which by June 18 had logged 50 homicides.

“I just need a new plan,” Hoyt said to Woodfin during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, arguing that residents are being “terrorized” by violent crime.

“My mother told me if you don’t know how to do something, ask somebody. Get some help … We did a couple of (crime) studies; it ain’t working. (We) brought a new chief in here; it ain’t working. So I’m just trying to figure it out … Maybe we need to call the National Guard in here to help us control this city.”

Woodfin immediately turned back that idea and began reassuring residents of Belview Heights that “your neighborhood is very safe.”

Birmingham Police Chief Patrick D. Smith in a presentation to the council last month also emphasized that most of the homicides in the city are not random acts of violence.

“A lot of people say, … ‘Are we really safe out there?’ My answer to you is, ‘Yes, absolutely, without a doubt,’” Smith said then.

“I wish we had the power to put a police officer on every corner, but I don’t think that’s what residents want,” Woodfin said Tuesday. “I think the word the councilor used was ‘terror.’ There is no terror in Belview Heights, based on the definition that I know of terrorism. These are things that are happening that are very personal in nature.”

Woodfin added that Birmingham police had taken “well over 500 guns off the street” since the beginning of 2019. “The truth is, I wish we could take every one,” he said. “I think (residents) have appreciated our police presence increase … and I think they appreciate us taking more guns off the street, which we have.”

Hoyt said that Woodfin’s response was not “satisfactory.”

“Terror is something that’s real,” he said. “I know when my wife is scared to come home, she’ll call me so I can meet her there to be sure she gets in the house safe. But you can’t say that’s not terror … It is terror.”

Woodfin did not respond further.

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