Totally Mean Streets

Carl T. Rowan

December 02, 1990|By Carl T. Rowan

WASHINGTON — Washington--WE HAVEN'T reached December, but the number of homicides in the District of Columbia is already at an all-time record of 437, almost triple the number of killings in 1985.

This city's police chief, Isaac Fulwood Jr., has offered this excuse for the surge in homicides: ''People in this city love drugs. There's no other way to describe it.''

There are a lot of ways to explain the almost incredible increase in murders other than a lame fallback on ''drugs,'' or an ugly insinuation that the citizens of this city are more addicted than those in any other metropolitan area.

Chief Fulwood's own police department says that drug-related slayings made up only 39 per cent of the killings here this year, compared with 66 per cent in 1988. So we have to look beneath the cliches to find out why murder -- here, in Atlanta, Detroit,

Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix and elsewhere -- has become the American way of death.

We have to look for more profound reasons than drugs to explain why juveniles have suddenly become killers in great numbers. The Washington Post reports that between 1980 and 1987 D.C. police arrested only 60 juveniles for homicides. Already, in less than 11 months this year, they have charged 63 juveniles with homicide.

I think we have a murderous problem that is propelled by mental illnesses that the leaders of this society don't want to see. I think we are seeing the poison fruits of decades of deprivation, neglect, even abuse of hopeless youngsters who vent their rage in violence against most anyone they can reach.

The poverty pockets of America are caldrons of resentment on the part of people who are mentally retarded, but not to the point that they don't know how to express lethal paranoia, dementia and more.

I wish every member of Congress, every governor, mayor, police chief, would read a 21-year-old book by Rodger Hurley called ''Poverty & Mental Retardation -- A Causal Relationship.'' Mr. Hurley documents the ways in which babies' brains get damaged in the wombs of poor, ill-nourished women, and how the intellectual development of infants is stunted by poor diets and the other deprivations of poverty.

Those homicide statistics are telling us that despite all this country spends on food stamps, welfare, programs for poor, pregnant women, Medicaid and more, millions of children never get the help they need. Not in the womb, the cradle, the first five years of life -- not at any stage before they become brain-warped, enraged human time bombs who explode in sudden deadly violence against a neighbor, teacher, relative, or even in serial killings.

The easy availability of drugs and guns in a city like this only encourages the alienated, the dangerously hostile, to commit homicides, so often killing friends and neighbors rather than the ''other-America'' people for whom they harbor hate.

Mr. Fulwood complains that homicides abound in this city because ''the community is not angry enough about death and violence.'' Angry enough to do what?

What all our cities need is the wisdom to accept the truth that until we stop messing up the brains of babies, despoiling the bodies of infants, poisoning the minds of teen-agers with racism and rejection, we'll go on counting our dead.

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