Bleeding hearts of liberals offer sanity desperately needed in '91


January 01, 1991|By WILEY HALL

For better than a decade now, crazed conservatives have been telling us what to do about crime and the result has been nothing but mayhem and misery.

Murders alone tell the story: In 1990, at least six major cities experienced a record number of homicides. They were Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Dallas, San Antonio and Phoenix.

Meanwhile, slayings in Baltimore topped 300 for the first time since 1972.

But it's not just the numbers.

Many of the killings have seemed particularly senseless, and many of the accused murderers have been distressingly young.

There was 17-year-old Charles Feaster, for instance, who was shot to death in November by a young man who wanted his leather Chicago Bulls team jacket.

There was 25-year-old David Gordon of Crofton, as another for instance. Gordon, an engineer and father of two, was shot to death Friday by two teen-agers during a holdup in Charles Village.

This kind of insane violence occurs after more than a decade during which the crazed conservatives have held the rhetorical high ground on crime, when the nation's mood was set by Johnny Rambo and Ronald Reagan, when the official policy of the criminal justice system was get tough, lock 'em up and throw away the key.

During the 1980s, the courts sent more people to prison and for longer periods of time than ever before.

So many people are going to prison that we don't have room to hold them all.

Yet the violence seemingly has gotten worse, not better.

It is about time the crazed conservatives took responsibility for the madness and pain they have wrought.

It is about time all of the bleeding heart liberals, who were hounded into hiding by the crazed conservatives in the 1970s and 1980s, took charge again before more people are hurt.

And so, that will be my New Year's resolution: In 1991, I resolve to tell the crazed conservatives just how crazy they are.

Let me give you some examples.

* Crazed conservatives say individuals, not society, ought to be held responsible for the crimes they commit.

* Crazed conservatives say rehabilitation is impossible and so, the criminal justice system ought to focus on retribution.

* Crazed conservatives say society ought to pay more attention to the victims of crime rather than the victimizers.

All of these precepts sound OK. But they are not. They are crazy.

They are crazy because each of these ideas focuses on the system's response to a crime after it has been committed, and in my view that is way too late.

Take the Charles Village slaying as an example. Police have arrested two youths, 15 and 16 years old, and charged them as adults with first-degree murder.

There is no question that if they are convicted, they will be held responsible for their crime.

But it would be far, far better that the crime had never taken place.

This is how the liberals, with their proverbial bleeding hearts, differ from the conservatives, with their wild and crazy eyes.

Conservatives ask, how can we avenge this murder?

Liberals ask, what could we have done to prevent it?

Answering that question brings us back to all of the traditional liberal things that crazed conservatives spent the last 10 years sneering at.

We know that youths who come from strong families, who are actively, intellectually involved at school, who have visions for their own future, who are gainfully employed, whose days are occupied with church, scouting, volunteer work, sports, or any of a hundred other constructive things, rarely commit violent crimes.

The violent kids often come from weak families, attend weak school systems, live in communities with poor work opportunities and have no vision of their own futures.

And so, bleeding heart liberals have sought to identify weak families and weak communities and strengthen them.

We also know that guns and drugs make for a lethal combination, especially in the hands of children.

And so, bleeding heart liberals have sought strong handgun controls and they have battled for enough resources that any person seeking drug treatment can get it on demand.

Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty and his Great Society would have gone a lot further toward preventing crime than George Bush's War on Drugs.

The nation's ranking police officers, through organizations such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the Police Foundation, also have begun to call for greater job opportunities as a response to crime.

But crazed conservatives, of course, began dismantling the Great Society before it was even constructed. And police chiefs, these days, have become far too liberal for conservative tastes.

Not long ago in fact, the crazed gentlemen and gentlewomen of the National Rifle Association launched a national campaign to get many police chiefs fired.

In Congress, the Bush administration and other conservatives often have found themselves pitted against police organizations on many crime control issues.

The crazed conservatives have another precept, one they used to beat the liberals over the heads with in past elections: There will always be crime, they say. It is senseless to try to prevent it.

That, of course, is the craziest idea of all.

Wiley Hall is a columnist for The Evening Sun. His columns appear Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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