Protest slated over police assault rifle plan

A group opposed to the Chicago Police Department’s plan to arm street cops with M4 semiautomatic assault rifles is planning to get their point across to the police board tonight.

Members of the Southwest Youth Collaborative, an advocacy group based on the city’s South side, say they have collected more than 5,000 signatures from people opposed to the plan.

The petition, to be presented to Mayor Richard M. Daley, Police Commissioner Jody P. Weis and other city leaders, says the group is against “the militarization of the Chicago Police Department, our youth, and our low-income communities of color,” and wants the city to reverse course and seeks a public meeting on the issue.

The group is staging a "Live In Peace - Chicago Youth Rally," scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. tonight at police headquarters, 3510 S. Michigan Ave.  The police board meeting starts at 7:30 p.m.

The Chicago Police Department wants to add the M4 to its arsenal because they can hold 30 rounds, twice as many as a typical 9 mm side arm, and because the semiautomatic rifles have a much greater range.

Weis and Mayor Richard M. Daley have said Chicago's cops, outgunned by an increasing number of criminals toting assault weapons, needed more firepower.

But last month, a Daily News review of federal firearms statistics suggests the number of assault weapons seized from Illinois criminals is not on the rise. Nor is the number of homicides committed with rifles in the nation. And rifles have been responsible on average for 15 percent of officer deaths each of the last six years.

Meanwhile, firearms experts say bullets from the M4 can travel nearly twice as far as those from a handgun, potentially posing risks for bystanders. And some policing specialists say equipping beat cops with military style weapons sends a message to police and citizens that combat, not cooperation, is the goal.

Several urban police departments in the United States, including the Miami Police Department, already use the M4 carbine.

Peter Sachs is a Chicago-based journalist.