BOSTON — OUR BIG CITIES and even our small towns have become killing fields where young men especially are racking up record numbers of homicides. Have violent crimes become key components of ''the American way of life?''
In Richmond, Virginia, William Jordan, 19, was a star athlete, student-body president, graduate at the top of his class -- and was shot to death in an argument last April. He was one of hundreds of teen-agers who could have glorified America who got mowed down in an orgy of violence that I think we can reduce, if not stop.
In my hometown, Washington, the annual killing statistic was record-breaking at 483, winning the per-capita title for the most homicides of the year.
Take a note of these cities where the numbers of homicides set all-time records in 1990: New York, 2,200; Dallas, 445; Phoenix, 139; San Antonio, 218; Memphis, 207; Milwaukee, 165; Boston, 148; New Orleans, 306; Richmond, 114; Columbus, Ohio, 92; Bridgeport Connecticut, 60; Oakland, California, 161. This is a partial list!
If you think it's just a phenomenon of cities with majority-black populations, tell me about Milwaukee, Phoenix, Bridgeport and Columbus.
This curse embraces more than race and even drug abuse. It reflects the fact that out of bigotry and fear our power brokers leave millions of youngsters in such desperate hopelessness that they destroy their own lives and have no respect for the humanity of anyone else.
My New Year's resolution is that I will strive to convince most Americans and our leaders that we can never stop the killings by building prison cells at $71,000 a bed, or locking up young men for life at the cost of a million dollars per convict.
We need Hubert Humphrey's vision of a job corps, or Franklin Roosevelt's old Civilian Conservation Corps, to give poor and virtually hopeless young men a smidgen of hope, a sense of worth, the joy of camaraderie, the belief that they, too, are worthwhile parts of America. Bring back the CCC camps and the Job Corps!
But, Dear God, it is so difficult to get this point across when the privileged, ''high class'' people of America are led by craven politicians to believe that every kid who steals an ear of corn, as I once did, is a certain Willie Horton rapist, murderer or whatever. And when the people who think they are ''in power'' in the police department or city hall think only in terms of retribution, punishment, incarceration and ''good riddance.''
When it comes to murder, there are no bounds of race, class or politics. We have Anglo, Hispanic, Asian, black and all other hues of youth gangs spreading death and destruction within our cities. Why can't people believe that a jobs-corps community in which all these bigoted, fearful, disadvantaged and jealous young men are brought together could undermine the city gangs that shoot people on expressways and otherwise spread the cult of murder?
Fools who talk about ''the fading liberal establishment'' are so obtuse as to reject the wisdom of Humphrey about how to turn a 16-year-old possible burglar or drug-peddling murderer into an honored part of the American ''establishment.''
If only we had a Hubert Humphrey in power now.